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Fraternities accuse University of Maryland of illegally searching phones, violating rights in Greek life probe

Fraternities accuse UMD of illegally searching phones, violating rights in Greek life probe
Fraternities accuse UMD of illegally searching phones, violating rights in Greek life probe 03:07

BALTIMORE -- Several fraternities at the University of Maryland College Park are suing the school and demanding a temporary restraining order against policies that have banned recruitment and social events with alcohol

They claim their freedom of speech is being violated. 

WJZ Investigator Mike Hellgren spent the day on campus speaking to students and learning more about about the lawsuit.

"I heard about the university doing interviews and searching some of the chapter houses," said Justin Fairbrother, a junior from Baltimore. 

What the fraternity activity ban includes

Fairbrother is in a fraternity and criticized his school for a lack of communication around allegations of possible hazing and dangerous behavior that led to a ban on recruitment and all social events with alcohol. That includes an order that current sorority and fraternity members have no contact with those wanting to join Greek life. 

"I believe collective punishment was a bad idea because they just took everyone—even though it might've been only a few people doing the wrong," Fairbrother said. "I would like to see the university complete their investigation—just lay out what they found, what they were looking for and what they found so we all know."

Fraternities claim vague allegations and violations of rights

Now, several fraternities have filed a federal lawsuit demanding the university reverse its suspension because it is a violation of students' freedom of speech. 

The fraternities also say the allegations, which the university has not laid out in detail, are vague and claim the social ban violates their due process. 

Cell phones searched

A coalition of fraternities is also accusing the school of illegally searching students' phones—going through their texts—and not allowing students' requests for lawyers to be present. 

"Pulling them into interrogations in which they're intimidated or threatened if they don't cooperate with handing over personal information on their personal devices," said Wynn Smiley with Fraternity Forward. "I have never dealt with anything like this."

Smiley said students have been asked about underage drinking and other situations in scheduled interviews this week without being told of specific allegations. 

"We simply want to know the allegations. What was the catalyst that prompted this? And the only thing the university says is that they are basing their investigation on rumors, and that simply tells me they are on a very big fishing expedition," he said. 

University of Maryland response

The university told WJZ, "We have no knowledge of any individual being asked to turn over their phone."

The school also said, "We won't comment further on the recent court filing, other than to state that our process is in line with university policies and puts safety at the forefront."

Sophomore Aubrey Decker is not in a sorority but has issues with the university's response.

"It was so quick, the whole process that I think a lot of people were caught off guard. It puts a damper. The student mood has definitely changed," Decker told Hellgren. "The lack of communication from the school's end. There's a lot of talk, and people are worked up and they don't really know what's going on, and I think it just kind of exacerbates the whole situation."

The University of Maryland said they will update campus Friday on the status of their investigation. 

Wiley said a judge will hold a hearing on the temporary restraining order request on Monday. 

The university is posting updates on the situation here.

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