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LSU's Phi Delta Theta fraternity house is closed down after a prospective member died after leaving there last week.

Advocate Staff Photo by PATRICK DENNIS

Nearly a year before Maxwell Gruver died during an initiation ritual at the Phi Delta Theta house, LSU administrators received urgent warnings that the fraternity was out of control, with people describing scenes of intoxicated, vomit-stained members openly snorting cocaine and making threats to haze pledges.

The allegations led to an investigation by LSU which yielded a relative slap on the wrist: a five-week interim suspension of activities. 

One of the warnings came in October 2016 from an LSU parent and alumni of LSU's Greek system, who wrote university officials about disturbing behavior she had witnessed at a Phi Delta Theta tailgate, according to public records, which did not include the woman's name.

"We saw their pledges sleeping in their own puke behind the bar while people were pouring beer and snorting cocaine," the parent wrote. She added that as she was walking past a group of their members, she heard someone say, "Let's go mess with that passed out b****." 

"I know you've had issues/complaints about them before as my sons and his friends have told me but it obviously just keeps getting worse," she wrote. "Please do something." 

A week later, a "concerned student" anonymously wrote LSU to warn administrators about threats of hazing from Phi Delta Theta brothers. 

"I am a concerned student who has been witnessing Phi delta theta hazing (pledges) during their tailgates ... (and) continuing to harass them back at their house after the tailgate," the student wrote, describing the members as "completely intoxicated" with visible signs that they'd vomited repeatedly on themselves. "They're getting initiated tonight as I have heard from them at tailgates and that they need to 'get them good' before they're initiated. I feel bad for these boys most of these things are certainly cruel. I understand 'right of passage' but this is just pure abuse." 

In its investigation, LSU officially accused the fraternity of hazing in the form of personal servitude — forcing pledges to be available to deliver food and pick up members from bars at all hours of the night. No allegation of drug use was mentioned in the university's charge.

Phi Delta Theta responded to the allegations of personal servitude, and reported to LSU that they had conducted an internal review and discovered some members had been making demands of pledges for errands. 

Asked why LSU's formal report did not acknowledge the drug use allegations in the written complaint, LSU declined to comment on a specific investigation. 

"Often times, there are anonymous reports given, but in some cases those cannot be verified during the process," LSU's Vice President for Student Affairs Kurt Keppler said in an email. "We can only charge organizations based on the evidence gathered throughout the (Student Advocacy and Accountability) process."

The fraternity interim suspension for the 2016 incident started in Nov. 15 of that year and was lifted Dec. 21. 

Typically LSU fraternities and sororities found responsible for hazing are additionally issued a "letter of reprimand" or directed as part of a probationary period to participate in educational workshops and take part in a mutually agreed upon enhancement plan. 

In some cases, the organization might lose some ability to host parties with alcohol. And in the very worst cases, the university will remove the fraternity from campus. 

LSU said in the 2016 Phi Delta Theta case some individual students were held accountable through the schools Student Advocacy and Accountability process. 

Sean Wagner, Chief Operating Officer of the Phi Delta Theta Fraternity's national headquarters, said five students were also disciplined by the fraternity's judicial process as a result of the 2016 allegations, even though the "university investigation did not reveal any evidence of organizational hazing and the chapter was quickly reinstated." 

"Phi Delta Theta does not tolerate hazing in any way, shape or form," Wagner said. "We investigate all reports of alleged hazing and take the appropriate action in accordance with our established Code of Conduct and anti-hazing policy."

Notably, Phi Delta Theta was not accused in the 2016 incident of hazing that included forcing pledges to drink, which is what police say happened last month when 18-year-old Gruver died of alcohol poisoning and aspiration. An autopsy found he had a blood alcohol level of 0.495. 

Eight members of the fraternity and two former students were arrested on misdemeanor charges of hazing. One of the members, Matthew Naquin, 19, was booked with the additional felony charge of negligent homicide. 

Phi Delta Theta was subsequently kicked off campus.

LSU President F. King Alexander has vowed to root out dangerous behavior in Greek Life. Fraternities and sororities are banned from having parties with alcohol until at least January 2018.

The university has already cracked down on Greek-organized tailgating parties by forbidding the student organizations to have single-source alcohol, like kegs and punches, and making the groups register their tailgates and reserve their spots on campus.

Follow Rebekah Allen on Twitter, @rebekahallen.