The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus


Still so many un-answered questions

Ten months following the death of Jake Stiles under questionable circumstances in the Sigma Alpha Epsilon house, the Stiles family continues to encounter hurdles erected by SMU in an effort to acquire answers about their son’s death.

According to the Stiles’, they began to encounter obstacles almost immediately after their son died in the SAE fraternity house the night of the fraternity’s 2006 holiday party.

Not only did the police renege on their initial promise to investigate leads that pointed to the SAE member who may have sold the fatal drug to Stiles, they stopped communicating with the Stiles family altogether. Ultimately, the situation reached a point at which the Stiles’ were forced to hire a local attorney to facilitate communication with administrators.

Some people wonder why I have taken a personal interest in Jake’s death. Perhaps because Jake was a student of mine. Perhaps because from the moment that SMU rushed to label his death an “isolated incident,” I knew that the facts did not jibe with the official version of events.

Perhaps because the more the Stiles family shared with me about their dealings with SMU, whether the university’s callous and self-serving decision to release toxicology results to the public before informing the family or its suspect refusal to release the police report, the more convinced I have become that the Stiles family needed someone to speak for them.

Unfortunately, private universities like SMU are able to avail themselves of a loophole in the Texas Public Information Act. As it turns out, this isn’t the first time SMU has refused a TPIA request. In 2005, SMU refused to provide information regarding sexual assaults on campus, citing the exemption in state law.

Carolyn Carlson, former national president of the Society of Professional Journalists, noted, “It’s dangerous [to have] private police forces acting with all the power of public forces but behind closed doors. Police forces that are performing public functions should be treated equally by the law,” adding, “If university police departments have the power to arrest, charge and detain, it only makes sense that they have the same responsibilities as public police.”

There are many people who would prefer that the Stiles’ just go away. Statements to that effect have been made – statements that some might consider threats. There, too, are those who wish I would stop writing about Jake’s death, not the least of which is SAE president Charles Slick, who said as much during a recent conversation. Apparently the publicity is having a negative impact on rush registration. That should give everyone an idea of where some people are coming from. I respectfully reminded Charles that perhaps it was the death of a member during a fraternity party that was the problem, not the fact that I was calling attention to it.

The fact that he refused – or wasn’t permitted – to discuss the circumstances that led to Jake’s death is at the very heart of my columns. It is not enough to ask where SMU goes from here; we must ask how we got where we are.

In a recent article about the increase in alcohol violations this semester, Brooks Powell discussed the alcohol-related death of a student at the University of Colorado. While the death was certainly tragic, there are ample examples — Jake Stiles, Jordan Crist and Meaghan Bosch – of similar tragedies at SMU. Nowhere in his article does Mr. Powell mention the names of his fellow SMU students who died. The almost pathological refusal to discuss the deaths of the three SMU students has become the proverbial elephant in the room.

An initial police report listed Jake Stiles’ death as a “homicide-unknown cause.” What did SMU police encounter at the scene that would lead them to make that determination? What transpired during the course of their investigation that led them to alter their previous findings?

What information exists in the report that SMU does not want public? The text messages, at least the ones I have seen, seem to point to the person who may have provided the drug, referred to as morph in the messages, that killed Jake.

According to an independent analysis of the medical report, the reference to “toxic-mix” as the cause of death is questionable, especially given the relatively low levels of alcohol and cocaine in Jake’s body, leaving fentanyl as the probable cause of death – which begs the question: Did a fraternity brother provide the fatal drug that killed Jake, as was the case last year in the Theta Chi fraternity at the University of Alabama?

The truth is the facts surrounding Jake Stiles’ death and the actions of persons linked to the death and investigation raise more questions than they answer: Why was there a two-inch contusion on Jake’s head? What role did positional asphyxiation play in his death? Why was the fentanyl not metabolized in his body? Did the SMU police initially suspect foul play?

Did the SMU police renege on its promise to conduct a sting to catch the suspected dealer because of administration or alumni pressure? Or was it because the sting would have involved the Dallas Police Department, which would make their findings subject to public scrutiny via the Texas Public Information Act?

Whom did SAE members call first: their alumni adviser or paramedics? Why was Jake’s phone found hidden in another member’s room? Was anything else in the room disturbed or removed? Why was his backpack never returned? Was a fentanyl patch removed from the body? Who was the last person to see Jake alive? Was a timeline of events fabricated to fit an “official” story?

There is a simple way to answer most, if not all of these questions: Release to the Stiles family the police file dealing with Jake Stiles’ death.

About the writer:

George Henson is a Spanish professor. He can be reached at [email protected].

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