A Cal State Chico fraternity has been charged with cutting and damaging 32 trees in the Lassen National Forest during an initiation ceremony for new pledges, federal authorities said.
The university's Pi Kappa Alpha chapter and its president, Evan Jossey, are facing 32 counts of cutting or damaging any timber, which was destroyed at the Deer Creek Trailhead campground during the weekend of April 21, according to Nancy Barrera, a spokeswoman for the Lassen National Forest.
They are also charged with possessing a firearm and conspiracy to commit offense or to defraud the United States, she said.
In a statement issued Wednesday, the Pi Kappa Alpha International Fraternity said its Lambda Psi chapter at Chico State has been suspended pending the outcome of the federal investigation.
"Lambda Psi Chapter and its members are expected to fully cooperate with authorities in this matter," the organization said. "The fraternity does not condone the allegations made in this complaint and will revisit the permanent status of the chapter and its members at the conclusion of the federal process."
Camper Jon Elam told authorities he was visiting the campsite during the weekend of April 21 when he saw about 80 people there, according to the federal complaint. He was then greeted by Jossey and three other men who introduced themselves as members of a Chico State fraternity, federal authorities said. The men told him they would be participating in an initiation ceremony that night.
He later heard gunshots and people chopping down trees, federal authorities said.
The next morning, Elam discovered several trees had been chopped down at the students' campsite. Elam told authorities he packed up his belongings and left the campsite.
He returned to the campsite on April 27 and found garbage everywhere and freshly chopped trees.
According to the Tehama County Sheriff's Office, deputies received a report from Elam on April 28 that a group of college-aged adults left "large volumes of litter," had cut down trees and were trespassing into closed areas of the refuge.
When deputies arrived, they found several students — some of whom were fraternity members — cleaning the campsite, according to the federal complaint. They also found a Chico State construction program shirt, blindfolds and candles, federal authorities said.
Photographs of the vandalism showed piles of pallet boards, trash and tree stumps strewn across the campsite.
Authorities believe the trees were cut down with an axe or hatchet.
The Lambda Psi chapter has denied any involvement, saying it has filed a police report regarding the person making the allegations.
The university said it was investigating the claims to determine who was responsible for the vandalism. Patti Waid, a university spokeswoman, said the fraternity is temporarily suspended from the campus.
"Regardless of who perpetrated the vandalism, the act in and of itself is completely unacceptable," she said. "As members of the Chico community, we believe an affront like this is an affront to us all."
5:10 p.m.: This article has been updated throughout with additional details, quotes and more information.