By Jack Cochran—
A former Tarleton State University professor resigned after a report that he participated in a ritual in which he pierced his pectorals and hung from a tree in the presence of students.
In a statement to Texan News, Dr. Jeff Justice acknowledged that he “attempted to harm myself in the presence of students. While I do not recall what initiated such action, I do know this incident was caused by the accumulation of events in my life that resulted in me entering a state of severe depression.
“As the result of those ongoing events in my life, I made the decision to resign from my position at Tarleton State University,” he said. “Such decision was made after diligent reflection of myself and upon the advice of my doctor.” To read the full statement, click here.
Tarleton spokesperson Cecilia Jacobs said in a written statement: “Tarleton’s highest priority is the welfare of our students. This is a personnel matter regarding a former faculty member, and the university has no further comment at this time.”
Justice was an assistant professor of social science at Tarleton State University, and was known for his well-attended study abroad trips to Scotland. A plaque with his picture sits in a glass case on the second floor of the O. A. Grant Humanities Building awarding Justice with “Faculty Excellence in Student Success” in 2015.
The May 18, 2015 police report is based on a nine page, handwritten statement submitted by a single unidentified student who says he witnessed the ritual. To read the statement, click here.
A police report accompanying this statement said “Professor Justice has not broken any laws other than offering alcohol to underage students, but has violated Tarleton policies.” To read the police report, click here.
In his statement, Justice denied furnishing alcohol to minors.
“I have from the beginning and to this day adamantly denied any truth to those allegations,” he said. “No case has been brought against me nor to my knowledge does any agency have any intentions of doing such.”
According to the police report, a Tarleton student “was contacted many times by Prof. Justice about getting together, and going to Prof. Justice’s home. After turning Prof. Justice down, Mr. (name redacted) and a few other students did go to Prof. Justice’s home and did drink scotch.”
The witness statement said that Justice began discussing what he called the Sundance ritual when the students arrived at his home. “After bringing us the scotch… He then began to talk about how his chest was in pain and I asked him from what,” the student told police. “He said that he had done a Sundance ritual the week before and that it did not go the way he had hoped.”
The records then report that Justice explained the ritual to the students, detailing that he had been performing it since he was 13 years old.
“He went to the bathroom and came back and took his shirt off,” he said. “He had stakes through his chest with blood dripping down and rope tied to them.”
According to the report, Justice then took the students outside and performed the ritual, which involved hanging himself from a tree by ropes attached to stakes piercing his pectorals. Afterward, the student said Justice led the students back inside his home, where he tried convincing them to do it themselves. “He then came over to where I was sitting and asked if he could pinch my chest,” the student said. “Then he felt on my chest and said yeah, the stake would go right through here.
… He asked us not to tell anyone about what happened, because he had lost friends from it before and told us he loved us for experiencing it with him.”
Texan News requested Justice’s personnel file and other records about the incident from Tarleton under the Texas Public Information Act. Though the university released the police report, it has yet to release other information requested and has instead asked the Texas Attorney General’s office for permission to withhold it.
Records obtained by Texan News show that Justice was also a temporary instructor and advisor for political science, history, geography, and economics at Texas Tech University in Lubbock. In a letter sent to Justice, Texas Tech stated that his “appointment as a temporary worker… will come to an end on August 31, 2006.”
In a second letter sent on August 28, 2006, Justice was informed that he was “ineligible for rehire with the Texas Tech University System or any of its components.” To read documents from Texas Tech, click here.
Justice also has been involved in the Boy Scouts of America. He is listed on the Southern Region Venturing Boy Scouts of America website as a former Southern Region Associate Advisor. He had been involved in a part of the Boy Scouts, according to a series of Facebook posts that have now been deleted, known as the Order of the Arrow, which also is known as the National Honor Society of the Boy Scouts. Justice frequently posted information about the Boy Scouts and the Order of the Arrow on his Facebook page, which is no longer in service.