An LSU Hazing investigation, One Student Hospitalized, One Dead: How the 3 are Connected – Similarities to the Death of Our Client, Max Gruver

After an evening of late-night revelry, the stories of two LSU underclassmen took a tragic turn on Monday.

One was hospitalized with alcohol intoxication early that morning. His fraternity, Phi Kappa Psi, has since been suspended from chapter activities amid a criminal hazing investigation.

The other student took her own life later that day. Her family and friends are now searching for answers.

As colleges have struggled to bring students back to campus this fall amid the pandemic, the chain of events at LSU raises additional concerns about substance abuse and mental health — two issues that already pose a challenge for many students, even under normal circumstances. It has also thrust LSU into familiar territory after years of fraternities being investigated, kicked off campus and, in some cases, criminally implicated.

East Baton Rouge District Attorney Hillar Moore III said Tuesday that his office is awaiting the results of an investigation by LSU Police into a potential hazing incident involving the hospitalized member of Phi Kappa Psi.

Moore said officials are interviewing witnesses and collecting evidence to determine whether the circumstances meet the criminal definition of hazing under a relatively new Louisiana law. State legislators changed the law in 2017 following the death of Max Gruver, an LSU freshman who died following a night of coerced drinking at his fraternity house.

“This case looks unbelievably similar to the Gruver case. There are a lot of parallels, with one exception: Everyone who has been questioned so far is cooperating with the investigation,” Moore said. “We simply want to know what happened in order to take the appropriate actions.”

Moore emphasized that the investigation is ongoing, and that it remains unclear whether anyone will face charges.

The trouble began after a gathering of Phi Kappa Psi brothers that lasted into the early hours of Monday morning. Things went south when one of the fraternity members, a Jesuit High School alumnus from New Orleans, headed to a young woman’s apartment at Arlington Cottages and Townhomes near LSU’s campus. He had planned to spend the night there. Instead, he was admitted to the hospital with severe alcohol poisoning, according to several people close to the investigation who were not authorized to speak to the media.

Reached by phone on Tuesday, the young man’s mother declined to make a public statement to The Advocate | The Times-Picayune. LSU spokesman Ernie Ballard said that the university was “looking into the circumstances that occurred off campus overnight leading to him being hospitalized.”

Several hours after her companion was hospitalized, the female LSU student, a St. Mary’s Dominican High School alumna from Metairie, was found dead inside her apartment. Baton Rouge police are continuing to investigate the death, which was reported Monday afternoon. The coroner’s office confirmed Tuesday that her death had been ruled a suicide.

Bouquets of flowers and a giant teddy bear covered the doorstep to her apartment by Tuesday afternoon, the only hint of the grim events that took place there. When reached outside the building Tuesday afternoon, her roommates declined to talk about what happened.

Reached by phone Tuesday, the young woman’s grieving mother said she did not have enough information to provide more details. She said she was hoping police would be able to provide more information.

“I do need answers,” the mother said. “I’m looking for answers.”

LSU officials notified Phi Kappa Psi fraternity on Tuesday that the organization is being suspended while the university investigates “potential violations of the LSU Code of Student Conduct.”

In a letter dated Oct. 20, LSU’s Associate Dean of Students Jonathan Sanders wrote to the fraternity president that the “interim suspension” for the fraternity means that members are no longer allowed to host or participate in social activities or conduct meetings. The letter also says that newly initiated members cannot have any contact with active members who have been part of the fraternity for longer.

This is not the first time Phi Kappa Psi has landed on the radar of LSU Police and university officials. Just last month, LSU Police reported that they were investigating an alleged hazing incident involving Phi Kappa Psi. The incident happened Sept. 13 and was reported to police the next day.

A spokeswoman for the fraternity did not return a message Tuesday.

Phi Kappa Psi was also the subject of a searing complaint reported to LSU in 2017. A person who described herself as “a concerned sister” of someone pledging Phi Kappa Psi said her brother was “terrified of speaking out,” but that he was “dealing with verbal assault, last-minute requirements by older members and lack of sleep due to having to leave home at all hours of the night and stay out late.”

It’s unclear how LSU resolved the 2017 complaint, which came shortly after the university was dealing with the fallout of Gruver’s death.

The Gruver case led to several hazing charges. One of his fraternity brothers, Matthew Naquin, was convicted of negligent homicide and sentenced to five years in prison, though half of the sentence was suspended. Prosecutors fought for access to Naquin’s cellphone after he refused to turn over his password, and ultimately were successful in getting the FBI to unlock the phone.

Evidence was presented at trial showing Naquin had deleted hundreds of files from his phone shortly after authorities started investigating Gruver’s death.

Gruver had been at LSU a month when he died of alcohol poisoning in what authorities have described as a hazing ritual dubbed “Bible study” at the Phi Delta Theta fraternity house. Gruver and other pledges were told to chug 190-proof liquor if they incorrectly answered questions about the fraternity or could not recite the Greek alphabet.

In response to Gruver’s death, the Legislature passed the Max Gruver Act the following year, which redefined criminal hazing and enacted harsher penalties for people found guilty of the offense. Gruver’s parents are also pursuing a wrongful-death lawsuit against the university.

The investigation into the Phi Kappa Psi incident will likely focus on whether the student became intoxicated of his own accord, or because he was being pressured. Police will also seek to determine whether other fraternity members sought medical attention for the student after realizing his condition.

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