UI student sues two former FIJI members she accuses of sexual assault, as well as the fraternity’s UI chapter and its national organization

Students protest University of Iowa’s Phi Gamma Delta fraternity on Tuesday, Aug. 31, 2021, in Iowa City, Iowa. Adria Carpenter/Little Village

A University of Iowa student has filed a civil lawsuit against the university’s  Phi Gamma Delta fraternity, or FIJI, alleging that two members of fraternity raped her at a party on Sept. 4, 2020.

Makéna Solberg filed the lawsuit in Johnson County District Court on Tuesday. It alleges two members of the fraternity “planned and conspired to lure Plaintiff into one of their bedrooms at the residence and isolate her from her friend with whom she had come to the residence.” Once there, they raped her and documented the assault with photographs and videos, according to the filing.

In an interview with KCRG, on Tuesday, Solberg said, “I remember taking a selfie with one of the guys. I set my drink down, took the selfie and the picked my drink back up. Maybe drank half of it, maybe. And then started feeling very dizzy, sick to my stomach, confused.”

According to the lawsuit, she followed one of the fraternity members to his bedroom, stumbling as she walked, and he closed the door behind her. The filing states that the “sexual assault took place as a coordinated and planned effort by fraternity members, including but not limited to Defendant.”

Both fraternity members “engaged in sexual activity with Plaintiff without her consent and while she was in an intoxicated, physically impaired, and physically vulnerable state of which Defendants… were aware or should have been aware,” according to the papers filed in court Tuesday. 

During the assault, the two men filmed and photographed the sexual assault, again without her consent, it says. They later shared the footage with other members of the fraternity and public using a group chat “established and used for official Iowa FIJI communications among its members,” the lawsuit states.

Solberg said she left the fraternity house the following day.

“When I woke up, I was very sick. I was very queasy. I was throwing up and it felt like I was beat up from the night before,” she told KCRG.

Solberg didn’t remember the assault but had bruising on her arms and legs. For five days afterwards, she tried to piece together the events of that night. Her friends saw the video and pictures circulating online. Solberg immediately reported it to the Iowa City Police Department.

The lawsuit says the “malicious and intentional circulation” of the footage knowingly caused her harm, and that the two men knew “such distribution could cause those photos and videos to be stored and shared in perpetuity and cause damage to the Plaintiff for the rest of her life — so long as the videos existed anywhere in the world.”

Other members of the fraternity, including some of its officers, told members to delete the photographs and videos of the assault and “to not report the incident, but instead to maintain silence and solidarity on the matter,” the lawsuit alleges.

On Sept. 10, 2020, Solberg called the Iowa City Police Department to report the sexual assault. Iowa City Police executed multiple search warrants against the FIJI fraternity house and its members.

Police applied for the warrant on Sept. 14, 2020, and executed it the following day. They collected DNA swabs of men named in the lawsuit, and the clothing Solberg wore on the night of her assault, which was later sent to a criminalistics laboratory for analysis. The documents say members of FIJI, including the two defendants in the lawsuit, told her not to contact the police.

Detective Eric Neiland interviewed Solberg’s friends and the two fraternity members’ friends. Another application says police searched the two FIJI members’ phones and uncovered a photograph on one of the phones that “corroborates a photo described by” a person the ICPD interviewed.

On Sept. 22, 2020, ICPD officers seized a DVR box which held surveillance video that “may assist in developing a timeline of events leading-up to and after the reported incident” and “may assist in showing intoxication levels of persons present during the reported incident.”

The two fraternity members have not been charged in the case. On Sept. 1, 2021, ICPD and the Johnson County Attorney’s Office asked the public for help uncovering more information related to the case. The case is still open and active, Public Safety Information Officer Lee Hermiston told the Press-Citizen. Johnson County Attorney Janet Lyness has said her office is currently pursuing criminal charges.

Solberg said she doesn’t just blame the two fraternity members she is suing.

“Just them alone? No,” she said in her interview with KCRG.

The lawsuit contends that other FIJI members and officers “knew or should have known of prior bad acts of [the two alleged rapists] and failed to take appropriate preventative actions.”

It also claims that Mu Deuteron, the corporate organization that FIJI operates under, and the Phi Gamma Delta Educational Foundation, a nonprofit organization based in Kentucky, “through its officers and members, failed to supervise its members and failed to protect guests present at the fraternity house.” 

According to the lawsuit, Mu Deuteron and PGDEF aided and abetted the actions by sharing the footage, directing members to delete the footage and instructing solidarity in silence, which “frustrated investigation.”

The lawsuit alludes to “prior bad acts” of the two named defendants, and asserts the organizations knew, or should have known, but failed to take appropriate preventative actions like expelling them from the fraternity. 

The aforementioned lack of security, lack of supervision, failure to maintain a safe premises, and aid in obstructing investigation into the sexual assault was and continues to be a cause of severe personal and mental injuries to Plaintiff,” it says. 

Solberg is seeking compensatory and punitive damages “in an amount that will satisfactorily punish Defendants and provide future deterrence to others.”

“Shock. I was shocked. You know I’ve seen a lot of bad behavior from a lot of people in cases. And I was shocked at the hubris and the sort of audacity that I saw on the face of one of the perpetrators, as he posed for the photo,” her attorney, Eashaan Vajpeyi, told KCRG.

The university previously sanctioned FIJI for violating COVID restrictions by holding impermissible gatherings, including during September 2020. But the university lifted those sanctions before the deadline, even though the fraternity did not complete the education and service conditions UI imposed until this fall.

According to the University of Iowa Interfraternity Council, FIJI removed the two members named in the lawsuit from its chapter. Neither is listed in the UI directory currently, though both were earlier this semester.

UI is conducting a membership and chapter review of FIJI, KCRG reported.

Students protest University of Iowa’s Phi Gamma Delta fraternity on Tuesday, Aug. 31, 2021, in Iowa City, Iowa.

Earlier this semester, a petition circulated, calling for a nationwide shutdown of FIJI. The petition currently has 167,000 signatures. “Since the courts wont give her justice, we need to do it ourselves,” it says.

“When everything blew up, that’s when I decided I need to come out with this. ‘Cause I’m not giving up on it,” Solberg said. “I am coming forward with my case not just for myself. I don’t know, just look at the positives, try not to lash out as much and worry so much.”

A Facebook group named “Protest FIJI University of Iowa” organized a protest for Aug. 31, 2021. The protest resulted in vandalism of two fraternity houses, including broken windows and doors and flipped cars. Protests continued days afterwards, but the Facebook group has since shut down.

In her interview with KCRG, Solberg said that if she could give her younger self some advice, she’d say, “You’re gonna be OK, even though I’m not gonna feel like it’ll be OK.”

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