San Luis Obispo police officers executed a search warrant related to the death of 18-year-old Cal Poly student Carson Starkey shortly after he died at a Sigma Alpha Epsilon initiation event. The search was part of what they’re calling an “active and open” investigation into his Dec. 2 death.
Police Spokesman Capt. Dan Blanke confirmed that a search warrant had been issued, but would not supply additional details or provide the warrant itself. Search warrants are generally considered public information.
“We feel that discussing any more detail would hinder and/or harm the investigation,” Blanke said.
Kim Pace, the aunt of an SAE member whom she requested not be identified in this story, said some parents and family members of pledges and fraternity members are upset with the way police have conducted their investigation.
She said fraternity members who were gathered at the fraternity’s informal gathering house during the search were made to lie on the floor with their hands over their heads as police conducted a room-to-room search. She said police even drilled through safes that were at the house to get them opened.
She said family members are particularly concerned because laptops, computers, cell phones and wallets were confiscated during the search, in the days leading up to finals week.
Pace also said her own nephew was having trouble going home for the holidays because, without a wallet, he couldn’t produce identification for a flight.
“Should they be labeled the petty Gestapo instead of your local police force?” she asked.
“We don’t treat people unfairly,” responded Blanke.
Under a law that took effect in 2007, hazing, defined as a method of initiation into a student organization, “which is likely to cause serious bodily injury,” is illegal.
Any activity that doesn’t result in injury is a misdemeanor, but when deaths occur, the law makes hazing a felony crime.
The law is known as “Matt’s Law,” after Matthew Carrington, who died in 2005 at California State University, Chico after being forced to drink gallons of water and do push-ups as part of a fraternity initiation.
Cal Poly suspended the SAE chapter following the incident and its headquarters issued a “cease and desist” order on the chapter, suspending its operations.
SAE’s national spokesman Brandon Weghorst said he was not aware of concerns about the police investigation. He said chapter members have been encouraged to cooperate with authorities.
While the chapter’s status has been suspended, he said SAE continues to support members.
“We support the undergraduates’ efforts to complete their finals at this time and to focus on their schoolwork,” Weghorst said.