The family of a Stanford University student who died from an accidental fentanyl overdose in January 2020 has filed a lawsuit against the university and against the fraternity to which he belonged, according to a Santa Clara County Superior Court filing.
The lawsuit was filed on Dec. 1, 2021, by deceased student Eitan Weiner's parents, Amir Weiner and Julia Erwin-Weiner, and his sister, Ya'el Weiner. Defendant names in the suit include Leland Stanford Junior University, Theta Delta Chi Founders' Corporation, alleged drug dealer Matthew Ming Carpenter and students Cole Weston Dill-De Sa, Muhammad Yusuf Khattak and William Corbitt Mitchell.
Weiner's parents are both employed at Stanford. Amir Weiner is an associate professor in the Department of History; Julia Erwin-Weiner is the associate vice president for medical center development at Stanford University. Ya'el Weiner, earned her undergraduate degree at Stanford in 2019, according to the lawsuit.
The 28-page wrongful-death lawsuit claims that if Stanford and Theta Delta Chi had followed their own policies and procedures and intervened when Weiner, 19, had suffered a first accidental drug overdose two days before his death, he would still be alive today. Key university and fraternity officials didn't safeguard the health and welfare of students; the university allowed the Theta Delta Chi fraternity's Eta Deuteron chapter to continue to operate on campus despite alleged continuous violations of the university's policies, the lawsuit claims.
Weiner's body was found by a janitor in a bathroom stall at the Theta Delta Chi/Eta Deuteron fraternity house, then located at 675 Lomita Dr., on Jan. 17. 2020. He died from an accidental drug overdose of counterfeit percocet and blunt-force trauma to his head, the coroner found.
The lawsuit noted that Stanford gave the fraternity multiple "second chances" that allowed the illegal and dangerous conduct to continue for five years, leading to Weiner's death.
"This case highlights the yawning gap between Stanford and Theta Delta Chi's written policies and the actions these institutions take to enforce their policies. But it also underscores the dangers that both the university and the fraternity are ignoring by underplaying and condoning the use and abuse of drugs on campus and within the fraternity/sorority system," the lawsuit claims.
Student defendants Dill-De Sa, Mitchell and Khattak are accused of aiding and abetting Carpenter in purchasing, distributing and furnishing the controlled substance that resulted in Weiner's death. Carpenter, then a student at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, was arrested in August on a warrant from Santa Clara County on charges arising from allegedly selling the counterfeit percocet that resulted in Weiner's death.
The Santa Clara County District Attorney's Office had given multiple warnings that counterfeit percocet posed a danger on campus as far back as September 2019. The DA's Office issued warnings on Sept. 10 and 24, 2019, that a large number of counterfeit 30-mg. pills contained fentanyl – not oxycodone hydrochloride, the drug in percocet – and was causing deaths. Stanford allegedly didn't widely and effectively distribute warnings, the lawsuit claims.
On Jan. 15, 2020, Stanford and Theta Delta Chi knew that one of its students, Weiner, had come into contact with a potentially lethal substance. He survived, yet the university and the fraternity took no action, according to the lawsuit. Stanford knew it had a problem with drugs on campus, and that it had an acute problem with drug use among members of the Greek fraternity/sorority community.
Stanford also wasn't following its own well-established rules, according to the lawsuit. Since 1896, the university has had a "fundamental standard" regulating student conduct and behavior, but it failed to discipline "acts of misconduct" outlined under its policies and standards related to drug-related activity, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit cites multiple examples of what it called "a culture of drug and alcohol abuse" on the Stanford campus. A 2019 survey of more than 1,500 undergraduate students found that roughly half said they consumed alcohol on three or more days during the prior 30 days. Many said they drank in a way that put them at risk for negative outcomes and they typically drank in campus residences. Regarding drug use, 12% said they used drugs other than marijuana and nicotine, such as opiates or opioids like vicodin and oxycontin. About 21% of students who belong to Greek fraternities and sororities said they used drugs other than alcohol, nicotine and marijuana.
Theta Delta Chi had a known serious drug and alcohol problem that violated Stanford's policies, the lawsuit claims. One year prior to Weiner's death, The Stanford Daily reported that Theta Delta Chi was going to lose its on-campus status at the end of the academic year due to longstanding concerns about alcohol consumption.
On Jan. 18, 2019, after multiple warnings over a three-year period, the fraternity was informed it was losing its housing.
But Stanford relented. It cited a "flaw in the procedural guidelines," which had led to removing the fraternity from its campus, according to a letter cited in the lawsuit by Susie Brubaker-Cole, vice president for student affairs. She rescinded the banishment.
Nearly a year to the day, Weiner had his first overdose. On Jan. 15, 2020, he received a package at the fraternity house that contained a bottle of percocet that he, Dill-De Sa, Khattak and Mitchell purchased from Carpenter. Early that evening, the fraternity's resident assistant, or RA, learned that Weiner had lost speaking and motor functions, both symptoms of fentanyl overdose. The RA contacted Stanford's residence dean and reported the symptoms. The residence dean directed the RA to call 9-1-1, but didn't take any other actions, instead suggesting the RA call the "on call" residence dean, according to the lawsuit.
Weiner declined medical assistance from paramedics.The other three students allegedly concealed the evidence and misled the first responders about the controlled substances within the fraternity house. Stanford did not take further action, the lawsuit claims.
Theta Delta Chi, a Massachusetts corporation, also has its own alcohol and drug policy, including that any illegal drugs or controlled substances at a fraternity event is strictly prohibited. Possession, sale and use of any illegal substance by any member can cause expulsion from the fraternity. It also outlines a crisis plan. Chapter members in charge are to contact "proper authorities" and to shutter the residence to outsiders in the event of an incident.
Additionally, they are to contact high-ranking members within the fraternity, including the chapter adviser, an alum or house corporation president and others. The fraternity didn't take any action after Weiner's first drug overdose, however, the lawsuit claims.
Weiner's recovery from his Jan. 15 overdose was brief. He died two days later from a second overdose of the fentanyl-laced pills. Even after police discovered the pills, the fraternity and Stanford didn't take any action to shutter the fraternity house, according to the lawsuit.
On March 22, 2021, more than a year after Weiner's death, Stanford publicly announced the fraternity would lose its university recognition for six years.
Carpenter, who is alleged to have sold the drugs to a number of students, allegedly purchased the drugs on the "dark web," a part of the internet that isn't indexed and allows for anonymizing activities. He is scheduled to enter a plea on Jan. 27 in Santa Clara County Superior Court.
In a statement, Stanford said it was saddened to receive the news of the lawsuit.
"Our community continues to mourn Eitan’s tragic death in January 2020, and we have great sympathy for his family and those affected by his death.
"Out of respect for Eitan’s parents, who are valued employees, the university is not addressing the specifics of each claim in the lawsuit nor elaborating on the chain of events that occurred. However, the university disagrees with many of the allegations in the complaint and will defend itself against the lawsuit," the university said. "In our community, there is nothing worse than the death of a student. It is a devastating occurrence that profoundly affects us all. However, criticisms of the actions of our professional staff, in this case, are unfounded; their actions were timely and reasonable based on the information they had at the time. In addition, it is not accurate that Stanford failed to take appropriate actions following Eitan’s death."
The university said it undertook a comprehensive investigation and removed Theta Delta Chi from campus. Whether and when the fraternity would be allowed back and under what conditions will depend on any information that night comes out of the criminal proceedings against Carpenter.
The university said it did send warnings to its community about the dangerous drug in 2019 and after Weiner's death. The university has had a longstanding drug-and-alcohol-education prevention program that all students are required to take prior to matriculation. The university has started a naloxone (Narcan) and opioid-training program Santa Clara County’s Opioid Overdose Prevention Project curriculum, which trained nearly 300 student resident assistance and Greek chapter leaders. Naxolone is a medication that can rapidly reverse an opioid overdose.
The university's drug and alcohol policies include Good Samaritan provisions to encourage students who witness dangerous situations with alcohol and drugs to seek help without fear of disciplinary action.
In December, Stanford announced it has contracted with outside experts to conduct an external review of its approaches to alcohol and drug use to improve its effectiveness, the university said.