A professor at a small college in Texas left his position after a bizarre incident where he hung himself from a tree by his pectoral muscles and urged students to do the same.
If that sounds baffling, well, it is.
The incident involves professor Jeff Justice, a political science professor at Tarleton State University in Stephenville, Texas who resigned his post several months ago. Until now, his resignation had been a mystery and of little interest to those outside the local community.
But now, a police report obtained by the Texan News Service reveals Justice left his job only after an incident where he recruited students to perform a strange body mutilation ritual.
The police report revolves around a nine-page handwritten statement given by a Tarleton student to local police. In it, the student says he and several other students were invited to Justice’s house by the promise of alcohol, and decided to go hoping that “he would leave us alone and not try to hang out all the time.” But, the student says, after they arrived and declined Justice’s officer of scotch, he began to discuss his so-called “Sundance ritual” with them.
“He then began to talk about how his chest was in pain and I asked him from what,” the student’s report to police says. “He said that he had done a Sundance ritual the week before and that it did not go the way he had hoped.” When asked just what the Sundance ritual was, Justice said that was “from the Native Americans where you put stakes through your chest and tie a rope from them to a tree, and hang from the tree and pray to the Sun god, who is the ultimate God” (this is, in fact, a real ceremony among some Indian cultures). The student said Justice claimed to have been performing the ritual since he was 13.
The students soon realized that Justice wanted to perform the ritual again that night, and despite their initial reluctance, they were convinced to go along with it.
“He went to the bathroom and came back and took his shirt off,” he continued. “He had stakes through his chest with blood dripping down and rope tied to them … He hugged all of us and asked us what we needed him to pray for us about.”
“I stood there in disbelief and speechless about what was happening,” the student said. “I at first thought it was really weird, but kind of cool and selfless that he was sacrificing his body like that for God. My feelings toward it quickly changed though, because he started asking us how blown away were [sic] we and how cool did we think it was. He said he knew we were religious, but that he knew more of how Christ felt.”
After performing the ritual, Justice apparently began trying to recruit the students to try it out themselves.
“He then came over to where I was sitting and asked if he could pinch my chest,” the student said. “I said sure very hesitantly, and then he felt on my chest and said ‘yeah, the stake would go right through here.'” The students declined the offer, and as they left Justice asked them not to tell anybody because “he had lost friends from it before,” and “told us that he loved us for experiencing it with him.”
But the incidents continued after that first night, the student claimed. He said that Justice would bring the matter up with him at school and urge him to perform the ritual, and he felt pressured to respond with at least some enthusiasm because Justice had power over his grades. Eventually, around final exam time, Justice sent the student a message asking whether “After you get done shepherding kids about campus, would you care to watch some [redacted] and moan and groan a bit?”
“This message made me feel more uncomfortable then [sic] I had ever been before and I was utterly speechless,” the student wrote.
After another incident in which Justice approached the student and attempted to give him a “side hug,” the student spoke with a classmate about the matter and discovered that Justice had also tried to recruit the classmate for the Sundance ritual. At this point, the student finally decided the matter should be reported.
Despite all the sordid details, the police report noted that while Justice had broken Tarleston State University policies, he didn’t appear to have committed any crime other than offering alcohol to minors. He eventually resigned, but was never charged with a crime.
Justice released a statement to Texan News Service defending himself from any suggestion of criminal wrongdoing.
“In April 2015, an event occurred in the front of my home that was a low point in my life and to this day is still a cause of embarrassment and disappointment,” the statement says. “Recently I have been approached by numerous media outlets alleging that I engaged in criminal conduct with students of Tarleton State University being present. Those allegations being I furnished alcohol to minors. I have from the beginning and to this day adamantly denied any truth to those allegations. No case has been brought against me nor to my knowledge does any agency have any intentions of doing such.”
Justice admitted that he engaged in “self-harm” in front of some students, and blamed his actions on severe depression. Justice said this depression also prompted his decision to resign.
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