After a month of investigating, LSUPD determined Max Gruver was “targeted” in the hazing even that led to his death.
Max Gruver was among the 18 to 20 Phi Delta Theta pledges who reported to the fraternity house around 9:30 p.m. on Sept. 13, 2017 for “Bible Study,” according to LSU Police reports. Gruver died the next day from alcohol poisoning after being forced to drink hard liquor until his blood alcohol content was six times the legal limit.
The pledges were summoned to the fraternity house through GroupMe or by a phone call from active member Sean-Paul Gott. During “Bible Study,” the pledges were asked questions about the fraternity and the Greek alphabet and forced to drink alcohol if they answered incorrectly, according to the reports. It began around 10 p.m. and ended around 11:30 p.m.
As the pledges arrived, their phones were taken by active member Sean Pennison. The reports said each pledge was given a cup of lemonade to be used as a “chaser.” Active members Matthew Naquin, Ryan Isto and Gott came downstairs and told the pledges to make a single-file line upstairs. Patrick Forde, a former University student and fraternity member, was also with them. LSUPD learned that Forde still frequently attended Phi Delta Theta events, and hosted hazing events at his apartment.
“Y’all better do well—I’m already f*cked up,” Naquin told the pledges when he came downstairs.
Pledges and active members told LSUPD that Naquin, Isto and Gott were the main participants during the event. During the event, Gott struck a pledge in the head with a bottle, causing a severe black eye, according to the reports. The pledge said it was an accident.
All pledges interviewed and most active members said Naquin was by far the most aggressive participant.
As the pledges went upstairs single-file, Gott covered them with mustard and hot sauce. Once upstairs, the active members told the pledges to place their noses and toes against the wall. The active members turned off the lights, played loud music and flashed strobe lights.
Pledges told LSUPD they had to recite the Greek alphabet, and were forced to take three-to-five second “pulls” of Diesel, a 190-proof liquor, if they answered incorrectly. Active members told the pledges to do “planks” and “wall sits” while active members walked across their knees. The pledges were also given a “pledge book,” a small book with the history of Phi Delta Theta. Pledges were told to hold the book while active members stood on top of it.
Gruver kept answering incorrectly, messing up five or six times, and Naquin kept forcing him to drink the Diesel, according to the police reports.
One pledge said Gruver was forced to take 10-12 “pulls,” while the other pledges only took three to four. Several other active members repeatedly warned Naquin he was being too aggressive, but he did not stop.
Active members said they told Naquin to “cut it out” and “slow it down” several times, but he and Gott continued to yell at the pledges and force them to drink.
Several pledges told LSUPD they thought Naquin did not like Gruver and yelled at him more than the other pledges. One said Naquin told him he wanted to cut Gruver from the pledge process. Some pledges said active members did not like Gruver because he was often late for events.
Some time after midnight, Gruver was laid on a couch in the fraternity house by some active members. They were concerned about how intoxicated he was but left him alone on the couch for several hours.
The next morning, Sept. 14, fraternity members found Gruver unresponsive on the counch with a weak pulse and were unsure if he was breathing. They summoned the pledges to the fraternity house after finding him aroun 9 a.m.
The pledges wanted to immediately call an ambulance, but the active members forced them to clean the house while they deliberated what to do next. Around 11 a.m., active members told two pledges to drive Gruver to the hospital. The members told the pledges to lie and say Gruver was found in his dorm room, not the fraternity house.
Gruver was taken to Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead that morning.
East Baton Rouge Parish Coroner Beau Clark said Gruver’s blood alcohol content was .495 and found THC in his system through comprehensive toxicology and histological testing. Gruver died from acute alcohol intoxication with aspiration, where he choked on his own vomit.
LSUPD was called to the fraternity house to investigate later that day. LSU President F. King Alexander announced in a press conference Thursday afternoon that hazing was suspected, and all Greek Life activities were suspended indefinitely.
“We at the LSU community are grieving today. The death of Maxwell Gruver was tragic and untimely,” Alexander said in his statement. “As we have continually warned over and over again, hazing is dangerous, irresponsible and unacceptable. It will not be tolerated at LSU.”
The national Phi Delta Theta organization suspended the fraternity on Sept. 14, and removed the charter for the fraternity four days later. The fraternity was later suspended from the University until 2033.
LSUPD arrested Naquin, Isto, Gott, Forde and Pennison along with active members Zachary Castillo, Elliott Eaton, Hudson Kirkpatrick, Zachary Hall and Nicholas Taulli on Oct. 11 after their investigation of “Bible Study.” All 10 received charges of hazing, with Naquin receiving an additional charge of negligent homicide. All were released on bail the next day.
A grand jury decided in March to move forward with the charges against Naquin, Isto, Gott and Forde. They are no longer enrolled at the University.