Student’s mother sues Phi Kappa Psi for son’s death

The mother of a former USC student and Phi Kappa Psi member filed a lawsuit against the national fraternity for wrongful death and negligence on Oct. 25, more than a year after her son’s death.

Kathleen Russell, the mother of Alasdair Russell, claimed that the death of her son was prompted by a pledging incident in 2016, according to a lawsuit obtained by the Daily Trojan.

Alasdair Russell committed suicide in April 2017 after withdrawing from USC that January. In the suit, Russell alleged that Phi Kappa Psi members forced her son to drink excessive amounts of alcohol at a party in October 2016, which caused him to fall off of a platform and injure his head.

“During said party, and due in part to the large amount of alcohol that Alasdair was made to consume as part of his obligations as a pledge, Alasdair fell off of an elevated platform, striking his head against the ground causing him to temporarily lose consciousness,” the lawsuit read.

According to the suit, fraternity members discouraged Alasdair from seeking medical attention through USC to avoid citation for hazing and providing alcohol to minors.

After he was diagnosed with a concussion and alcohol poisoning at a nearby hospital in October 2016, Phi Kappa Psi members pushed Alasdair to continue drinking and “preparing the fraternity house for additional parties,” the lawsuit said.

“The brothers of [Pi Kappa Psi] were fully aware that Alasdair sustained a head injury in his fall on the night of Oct. 28, 2016; however, instead of allowing Alasdair to heal from his injury, he [was] compelled by [fraternity members] to resume his obligations as a pledge,” the lawsuit read.

It also said that fraternity members gave Alasdair cocaine and Adderall to help him complete his pledge obligations.

Russell alleged that Alasdair’s behavior changed, and that he took a self-reported anxiety exam which endorsed that he experienced “nervousness, anxiety, depression, hopelessness and loss of interest in most daily activities” before withdrawing from USC in January 2017 and returning to his home in Florida, according to the lawsuit.

“Over the ensuing weeks, Alasdair’s behavior and personality [became] increasingly more erratic and unpredictable,” the lawsuit read. “He [was] no longer the driven and accomplished young man who entered USC in August 2016. Alasdair [was] behaving compulsively, irrationally and expressing an intent to self-harm.”

Before committing suicide in April, Alasdair was involuntarily committed on two separate occasions in March 2017, but the lawsuit does not specify to what kind of medical facility he was committed.

Before his suicide, the lawsuit said that Alasdair was set to climb Mount Everest and aimed to become the youngest British climber to make the fastest ascent. Alasdair had previously climbed some of the highest mountains in the world and modeled for brands like Gap.

“At the time that Alasdair enrolled at USC in August of 2016 he had everything going for him: smarts, looks, athleticism, a vibrant personality and charisma,” the lawsuit read. “Alasdair was ready to make his mark on the world.”

In May 2017, the USC placed its Phi Kappa Psi chapter on interim suspension after receiving a letter from Russell, which outlined how Alasdair was impacted by the organization’s hazing practices. As of March 2018, the University no longer recognizes the campus chapter of Phi Kappa Psi as an active fraternity because of hazing and health and safety violations, according to the Fraternity and Sorority Leadership Development site.

The site also stated that the USC chapter has also been unrecognized by the Phi Kappa Psi national organization.

In the email, Russell’s attorney Ilan Heimanson said Russell filed the suit in the Los Angeles Superior Court to shed light on the issue of hazing in Greek life on college campuses.

“Dr. Russell is joining a growing voice across the country that seeks to shed light onto the sickness of hazing currently plaguing Greek life, and aims to establish a new reality for fraternities across all colleges and universities,” Heimanson wrote. “A reality free of hazing and substances. A reality where Fraternities turn back to their original purpose, as positive centers of intellectual fellowship, charitable works and community service.”

Phi Kappa Psi’s national headquarters confirmed that they were named as a defendant in the lawsuit.

“Our thoughts and deepest condolences continue to be with the Russell family, their friends and all who have been impacted by this tragedy,” Beth Headrick, director of communications for Phi Kappa Psi, wrote in an email to the Daily Trojan.

Due to pending litigation, the Phi Kappa Psi national office was unable to comment further.

USC Student Affairs declined to comment on the lawsuit and the Interfraternity Council did not comment in time for publication.

The Fraternity and Sorority Leadership Development office directed the Daily Trojan to USC Media Relations, which did not comment in time for publication.