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Reports on Courtland Smith's death and investigation conflict

Jenny Levering has given two conflicting accounts of her communication with Courtland Smith.
Jenny Levering has given two conflicting accounts of her communication with Courtland Smith.

Conflicting stories have emerged about what communication an administrator had with Delta Kappa Epsilon president Courtland Smith the night he died.

In the first story — recorded in documents Assistant Dean of Students for Fraternity and Sorority Life Jenny Levering authored shortly after the junior’s death — the two spoke a few hours before Smith was shot to death by police.

In the second story — told by Levering’s phone records and most recent statements — the two hadn’t spoken since earlier that summer.

The contradicting stories have added to the confusion surrounding the circumstances of Smith’s death as family and friends question what pushed a stable, social and popular student to the edge.

On Aug. 23, Smith left a party at his fraternity house sometime around 1 a.m.

A few hours later, he called 911 from his car saying he had been drinking heavily and was suicidal. Police pulled him over and shot him about 15 minutes from Greensboro.

Smith’s parents, Pharr and Susan Smith, wrote in a December e-mail to his fraternity brothers’ families that their son seemed fine until late that night.

“For the week or two before his death, Courtland was his usual happy self,” they wrote. “We continue to struggle to understand what preceded that final event, and we are continuing in our own investigation of what happened the night before Courtland died.”

University administrators say Levering played zero role in Smith’s death.

“Even if she had a conversation with him, going from there to what happened to Courtland is a very, very bad and wrong thing to do,” said Winston Crisp, the vice chancellor for student affairs.

Records of both Levering’s personal and work cell phone show multiple calls to students and others late into the night Aug. 22 and early Aug. 23, but none to numbers associated with Smith.

The Daily Tar Heel has not received copies of Smith’s cell phone records, which were obtained by the State Bureau of Investigation.

University administrators say they have not seen Smith’s records, either.

Levering initially reported that she had spoken to Smith in a hand-written and signed incident report that read, “I talked to Courtland on the evening of the 22nd.”

She filed a second statement sometime before a Sept. 18 Greek Judicial Board hearing for violations at DKE’s party, saying that he called her around 1 a.m.

But in a telephone interview this week, Levering said her earlier reports were incorrect. She hadn’t spoken to Smith since earlier that summer and made her statements while still confused and grieving, she said.

She added that she wasn’t sure what she initially told the SBI, which took over the Smith case because it involved a police officer.

“I think they may have been under the impression that we spoke,” she said. “But I let them know that it was a mistake.”

Chancellor Holden Thorp has written in e-mails to alumni and parents that Levering did not speak to Smith before he died.

“Jenny Levering did not call Courtland the night that he died,” he wrote.

Administrators have also reviewed Levering’s cell phone records and conducted multiple interviews with her and others, Crisp said.

“There is no indication that Jenny ever had a conversation via telephone with Courtland,” he said. “In the blur of all that had happened … she has said she got confused.”

Crisp said he found the possibility that Levering spoke to Smith from another phone unlikely.

Among those Levering did speak to was former Interfraternity Council president Charlie Winn, whom she called at 11:30 p.m. and again at 1:34 a.m.

Winn said he called Smith that night to discuss the party at DKE’s house, but did not see him personally.

“She was asking me about what was going on in the DKE house,” he said. “The very act of her calling me indicates that she did not call Courtland. … Jenny would call Courtland if she wanted to talk to him.”

Administrators said they aren’t sure why Levering reported that she spoke to Smith.

As the official liaison between the University and the Greek system, Levering is in frequent cell-phone contact with many fraternity presidents, and said she spoke to many members of the community that night.

“I talked to so many presidents that night,” she said this week. “There was just a lot of communication going on.”

In the months since Smith’s death, UNC’s Greek community has undergone a systematic review. DKE has been handed down severe sanctions, including a year of social probation.

Trustees have asked alumnus Jordan Whichard to make recommendations for reforms in the Greek system.

A draft of possible recommendations includes, among other things, a smaller role for Levering’s office in the Greek judicial process.

Crisp said the University might never know why Levering made the initial statements she did.

“We’re probably never going to know what exactly was going on with Courtland,” he said.

The Smiths, however, have asked administrators to continue to look into their son’s death.

“We will keep digging into the phone records and other evidence to try to get closure on this part of the story,” they wrote.



Contact the University Editor at udesk@unc.edu.

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