In an alleged hazing incident that triggered international headlines and sent one mother reeling, a Central Michigan University student has been criminally charged after accusations that he smeared peanut butter on the face of a student with a peanut allergy while that student was passed out.
Dale Merza, 20, of Rochester Hills has been charged with misdemeanor hazing and could get up to 93 days in jail — plus a $1,000 fine — if he's convicted. But his lawyer said he believes that's not going to happen. His client, he says, is innocent.
"I'm confident that once the facts are laid out in court, Mr. Merza will be found not guilty of any kind of hazing. This case has been blown way out of proportion by the individual's family members, who were not present and don't have any of the facts," attorney Bruce Leach told the Free Press today. "Mr. Merza has never been in trouble before in his life. I don't believe he'll be convicted."
Leach said Merza, who was arraigned Friday in Isabella County District Court, is doing well, continuing with his studies and has the support of his family and friends.
"This is simply not hazing," Merza said.
The other student's mother has a different view.
“He could have been killed,” Teresa Seely, the mother of now-former CMU student Andrew Seely, wrote in a March Facebook post that went viral.
While the incident happened in October, Teresa Seely said that it wasn't until March that her son disclosed to his family what happened to him. Seely said that she took to Facebook to let parents and others know about what happened to her 19-year-old son, who completed one semester at the Mt. Pleasant school before transferring because of the incident. She has withheld the name of his new school to protect him from potential retaliation.
“Our family is devastated,” Seely previously told the Free Press. “We thought we were sending our child off to school in a safe environment, and obviously that wasn’t the case. He could have died from this. He has a deadly peanut allergy.”
She could not be reached for comment regarding the fresh criminal charges.
The incident happened at Alpha Chi Rho, an-off campus fraternity that was banned from official recognition in 2011 for hazing incidents. CMU officials said the fraternity bid for reinstatement last fall, but the university and its inter-fraternity council denied the request.
The National Fraternity of Alphi Chi Rho condemned the incident in a statement, noting the CMU chapter is not recognized by the national fraternity:
“Alpha Chi Rho is appalled and upset by the actions taken by individuals against Andrew Seely. … Alpha Chi Rho does not condone this type of behavior — or any form of hazing — and it stands in conflict with our mission to cultivate men of character, honor and integrity."
CMU officials previously said that the college is investigating for potential violations of the student code of conduct, which carry penalties including suspensions and permanent dismissal in serious cases. The status of that investigation is unknown. College officials were not readily available for comment.
Seely said her son, a 2016 graduate of Marysville High School in St. Clair County, began attending Central last fall, studying accounting. She said it wasn’t clear why he didn’t notify family when the incident happened, but that he may have feared alienating friends.
According to Merza's lawyer, the two college students communicated after the incident and "everything seemed to be fine."
"It's a little strange that this is being brought up so late, after the fact," Leach said.
A potential settlement conference has been scheduled for April 19.
The Detroit Free Press