Former LSU Fraternity Member Convicted of Negligent Homicide in Hazing Death
In September of 2017 Maxwell Gruver, a freshman at Louisiana State University, died as a direct result of hazing administered by members of the LSU chapter of the Phi Delta Theta fraternity. After details of Gruver’s death were made public, the Louisiana legislature passed the “Maxwell Gruver Act,” which criminalized certain specific acts traditionally associated with fraternity hazing.
In today’s post, our fraternity hazing lawyer gives a recap of the recently-concluded felony negligent homicide trial of one of Gruver’s fraternity “brothers.” He will close by offering suggestions to families that may have lost a child to such brutal practices.
In the overnight hours of September 13th – 14th, 2017 Maxwell Gruver and other pledges of the LSU chapter of the Phi Delta Theta fraternity were ordered to participate in a fraternity hazing ritual known as “Bible Study.” During this ritual, new fraternity members are questioned concerning the fraternity’s history, customs, and other matters by senior members of the fraternity. If a question is answered incorrectly, the new member is punished by being ordered to consume a “shot” of an alcoholic beverage.
On the morning of the 14th, Gruver was discovered “unresponsive” on a couch at the fraternity house. He was transported to a local hospital but was pronounced dead within hours of his arrival. An autopsy revealed that his death was due to acute alcohol poisoning complicated by aspiration of stomach contents. On admission to the hospital, Gruver’s blood alcohol concentration was measured at 0.496, six times the level needed to convict on a DUI/DWI charge in Louisiana.
On October 11th, 2017 10 members of Phi Delta Theta who had been present at the fraternity house on September 13th – 14th, and who had taken an active role in the “Bible Study” ritual involving Gruver, were arrested and charged with misdemeanor hazing. Among those 10 was Matthew Alexander Naquin of Boerne, Texas. Naquin, who was 19 years old at the time, was also charged with felony negligent homicide in connection with Gruver’s death.
Parents file $25 million lawsuit against LSU, Phi Delta Theta
In August of 2018 the parents of Maxwell Gruver filed a $25 million civil lawsuit in a federal court against LSU; the LSU chapter of Phi Delta Theta; the national headquarters of Phi Delta Theta; the Beta House corporation that owns the local Phi Delta Theta fraternity house, and former fraternity members Matthew Naquin, Ryan Isto, Patrick Forde, and Sean-Paul Gott.
According to a story published in the LSU student newspaper, The Daily Reveille, the lawsuit alleges that:
LSU “… knew of serious and substantial risks facing male students seeking to join Greek Life because of the dangerous, repeated misconduct, including hazing and the compelled consumption of alcohol with fraternities …” but failed to take action.
The Executive Board of the local Phi Delta Theta chapter had previously discussed knowledge that Ryan Itso’s and Matthew Naquin’s conduct toward pledges was “extreme and dangerous” yet took no action to curb such behavior.
Despite knowledge of their propensity for extreme and dangerous behavior, the Executive Board allowed Naquin, Itso, Forde, and Gott to conduct the “Bible Study” ritual.
A trial date has not been set for the civil lawsuit,
Matthew Naquin charged with obstruction of justice
Less than a week before the start of his trial for negligent homicide, East Baton Rouge District Attorney Hillar Moore announced that Naquin was being charged with a separate charge of felony obstruction of justice.
According to WBRZ-TV of Baton Rouge, state prosecutors allege that in March of this year Naquin deliberately deleted over 700 photographs, text messages, and other items from his cell phone that could have been used to link him to Gruver’s death. Prosecutors say that Naquin deleted the files within hours of learning that he was going to be served with a search warrant which would have required him to surrender the phone to state investigators.
If Naquin is later convicted of felony obstruction of justice, he could be sentenced to five years imprisonment “… with or without hard labor…”, a fine of up to $10,000, or some combination of imprisonment and a fine.
Matthew Naquin convicted of negligent homicide
Matthew Naquin went to trial on Monday, July 8th, on the negligent homicide charge. Over the 7-day course of the trial, the six-member jury heard testimony from two fraternity members who participated in Gruver’s “Bible Study” hazing stating that Naquin had a personal dislike for Gruver and had thus “singled out” Gruver from the other pledges, making him the target of Naquin’s wrath.
On July 17th, the jury found Matthew Naquin guilty of felony negligent homicide in the death of Maxwell Gruver. Under Louisiana law, a conviction for felony negligent homicide carries a potential sentence of up to five years imprisonment “… with or without hard labor…”, a fine of up to $5,000, or some combination of prison time and a fine.
Naquin was immediately taken into custody and transported to the East Baton Rouge Parish Prison. He was released from custody after posting a $10,000 bond pending his sentencing within the upcoming 60 days.
Naquin’s trial on his felony obstruction of justice charge has yet to be scheduled.
Was your son injured during fraternity hazing?
Although the fraternity-sponsored hazing death of Maxwell Gruver was tragic and unnecessary, it was by no means an isolated event involving one “rogue” fraternity with a few “bad apples.” In fact, our fraternity hazing database has documented two dozen hazing-related deaths in the previous five years!
Sadly, most fraternities and their host schools are more interested in “keeping things quiet” than in punishing such behavior. In our experience, the only avenue available to patents whose son was injured during hazing is to file a lawsuit against the fraternity and the host school.
If your son was injured during fraternity hazing, we invite you to contact the fraternity hazing lawyer at The Doan Law Firm, a national law practice with offices located across the country to arrange a review of the facts in your son’s injury case and a review of the legal options that may be available to you.
When you contact our fraternity hazing lawyer, your case review and first consultation with our staff is always free, confidential, and does not obligate you in any way. Should you decide to pursue a lawsuit against a fraternity, we are willing to assume full responsibility for all aspects of preparing your son’s case for trial in exchange for an agreed-upon percentage of the final settlement that we will win for you.