It’s been more than a week since a widely attended drinking party hosted by a high school fraternity was raided by local police, yet so far only two employees from the venue have been arrested and the charges against those men were almost immediately dropped.
The party, held at the Elks Lodge on Dauphin Island Parkway March 31, was organized as a “dance,” according to an agreement renting the venue for the event. It was purportedly hosted by “St. Paul’s [Episcopal School] Fraternity, Phi Kappa,” as stated on a form filled out to rent the Lodge.
After receiving a complaint about underage drinking, the Mobile Police Department responded to the Elks Lodge where, according to police reports, “50 to 60 juveniles and young adults were seen running from the scene” as officers arrived around 10 p.m.
Many scattered, some hid in ditches to avoid police, but in all, “approximately 51 juveniles were detained for questioning.” None were charged or taken into police custody and no petitions related to underage possession of alcohol were filed with the Strickland Youth Center.
Two of the lodge’s members were arrested, though. Alfred Nix, 74, and Vincent Lyons, 58, were taken to the Mobile County Metro Jail and charged with hosting an “open house party” after they were found in a back room of the lodge.
Both men’s mugshots were featured on local news broadcasts after MPD included the arrests in a “weekend recap” sent to the media. Elks Lodge manager Frank Rohe initially told reporters Lyons and Nix had “expected chaperones to be present” and were “unaware of what was happening” — claims a public information officer with MPD called “far-fetched” at the time.
However, a day later, local prosecutors and police themselves were saying “the facts didn’t support” the charges against Nix and Lyons.
“We know they didn’t bring the alcohol,” Mobile County District Attorney Ashley Rich said. “[The students] brought it in from their cars after the chaperones left. These men were in the back room watching TV.”
According to MPD, the charges didn’t stick because an “open house party” is defined under the law as a “social gathering at a residence,” which the Elks Lodge is not.
Neither Lyons nor Nix has a criminal history, though Lyons was also charged with “failure to show vehicle registration” on the night of the party. Reached by phone, he declined to comment, only saying an attorney had instructed him not to discuss his arrest publicly. He didn’t specify whether the attorney was representing him in a criminal or civil capacity.
MPD spokeswoman Charlette Solis said the department is reviewing the way it handles minors who are caught drinking, though she also said changes are “not likely.” She said currently “if we can prove” a minor is in possession of alcohol, “it is the police officer’s discretion” to release them to a parent or responsible family member.
If the person is under age 17, the officer also has the ability to “document and sign a petition with the juvenile court,” though, unless there are other factors, minors aren’t typically arrested.
“The police officer doesn’t have to make an arrest,” Solis added. “Utilizing a ‘warn and release’ procedure notifies the child and his or her parents that any subsequent offense will be referred to the juvenile court.”According to Interim Headmaster Dr. Mark Foley, St. Paul’s has “a longstanding policy of not endorsing any fraternal organization of any kind.” He said the group that rented the Elks Lodge isn’t affiliated with St. Paul’s and the event “wasn’t endorsed by the school in any way.”
According to the school handbook, though, “St. Paul’s does not prohibit membership in private organizations.” It is also well known that some of its students, like those at other private schools in Mobile, participate in social groups that mimic the collegiate Greek system.
In a letter to parents, Foley said he and the administration were currently “fact finding” to determine how St. Paul’s “became identified as a sponsor.” However, he said he couldn’t comment on “discipline of any kind that may or may not be exercised” by the school.
“St. Paul takes a position on and enforces activities that are related to the school,” he said. “To try to come to terms with what anyone may or may not do when they’re not on school business gets to be a difficult thing to police.”
Lagniappe was contacted by parents of current and former St. Paul’s students who said these parties aren’t anything new. They also claimed some parents likely knew about the event at the Elks Lodge beforehand, though MPD has not released any evidence to corroborate that.
However, Rich herself said she believes the parents of some partygoers “obviously knew what they were doing” — something she chalked up to a “prevailing mentality” that underage drinking is “perfectly acceptable.”
“There were adult chaperones at the party until a certain time period, and that’s when the kids went out to the car, got their already-iced-down adult beverages and got the party started,” Rich said. “Someone is going to end up dying. That’s what it’s going to take for parents to realize, ‘It’s not OK to let my teenage kids drink alcohol.’ I don’t want it to get to that point.”
Virginia Guy of the Drug Education Council said similar events have been seen across Mobile in recent months.
She believes teenage drinking is on the rise locally, which she pinned partially on the normal “societal pressures” teens face, but also on an increasingly cavalier attitude toward alcohol use that’s becoming prevalent among students and even some parents.
According to Guy, introducing alcohol to a teenage brain can stifle development and greatly increase a child’s risk of addiction. The narrative of “oh well, I did it and I’m fine” is something Guy thinks should change among parents. With popular opinion drastically shifting on things like sun protection and tobacco use over the past 30 years, Guy thinks alcohol should be next.
“The message on teenage drinking has really gotten watered down. Every year that goes by, kids are aging out of the schools, and the parents are aging with them,” she added. “We really need parents to have each other’s back. It’s hard for one to say no to their child when all of the other parents say, “this is OK.”