The family of Max Gruver and other advocates are calling on LSU to release findings from a recent investigation into how university officials reacted to complaints about possible hazing at the Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity that were received well before nine DKE members were booked with a range of serious crimes.

LSU has said the investigation “fully exonerated” the employees who received the earlier complaints, but that no public paper trail from it exists.

The university asked the Taylor Porter law firm to investigate administrators connected to Greek Life — whom the university never named — after nine DKE members were arrested last month and accused of urinating on pledges, dousing them in gasoline, forcing them to lie on glass and more. A week later, LSU said the investigation determined that university officials had received “no credible information” in the earlier complaints that should have triggered a probe into DKE.

LSU said no written report on the investigation exists because university employees received the results of the investigation orally. After The Advocate requested any records related to the investigation, LSU responded that the “only known record” is exempt from disclosure because of attorney-client and work product exemptions from state open records laws.

The family of Gruver, who died in 2017 after a hazing incident at LSU's Phi Delta Theta fraternity, questioned why LSU would withhold information. “If there are violations or infractions to the student code, the university has a responsibility to take the necessary steps to correct the issues,” the family said in a statement. “And the university must be transparent regarding violations, sanctions and investigations. Students, families and the campus community deserve to know the truth.”

Gruver’s parents, in particular, have become advocates for anti-hazing legislation and training in the wake of his death. They have also filed a federal lawsuit against the university seeking $25 million in damages, alleging their son never would have died if LSU officials had responded appropriately to previous complaints about hazing incidents at his fraternity.

This week brought new revelations about possible hazing and other recent misbehavior at other LSU fraternities. LSU Police searched the Kappa Sigma fraternity house Tuesday and found evidence of drug usage there, and a former LSU official sent an email in January that said Kappa Sigma was under police investigation at that time for “a hazing violation related to theft.”

LSU’s Pi Kappa Phi fraternity is also under police investigation for possible hazing.

In their statement, the Gruvers said LSU’s staff and the institution are fully responsible for Greek life, along with other clubs and sports on campus. When university-affiliated organizations don’t comply with the rules, LSU should completely disassociate from them, the Gruvers said.

“Lives are on the line,” they added.


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After this story was initially published, LSU sent The Advocate a statement. It said the investigation was limited to a single allegation from a former student who said several weeks ago that he had reported problems at DKE to higher ups. 

Some state lawmakers said this week they also would welcome more details about LSU's investigation.

“I would certainly like to see it,” said state Rep. Nancy Landry, R-Lafayette. “I would like to know if they weren’t following the rules, because I would like to know how the law would need to be changed if we have a problem somewhere.”

Landry sponsored legislation last year, named after Gruver, that toughened state laws against hazing. She said she understands the attorney-client privilege shield and the sensitivity around personnel investigations, but said those differ from the university’s internal hazing investigations that the Max Gruver Act sought to make easier to access. One goal of the legislation passed last year, she said, was “to get everything out in the open” and to ensure the proper people are being punished.

Adam Goldstein, program officer at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, said it’s common for universities to hire outside legal counsel to perform investigations into potential employee wrongdoing because it protects them from accusations of bias in internal investigations. FIRE is known nationally for its advocacy for free speech and other First Amendment protections on college campuses.

But Goldstein said he could not recall another case in which a university refused to release records from an outside investigations that was meant to instill confidence in the institution — especially when the records were said to absolve university employees.

“Institutions end up being so paranoid about their transparency obligation that they end up making themselves look worse than the transparency would,” Goldstein said. “If the report found there was no responsibility, the idea that there’s not some form of that you’d want to share — it feels like a miscalculation. And that miscalculation is going on over and over again, where institutions err on the side of secrecy in ways that work against them — people’s imaginations are often worse than reality.”

Goldstein said LSU’s behavior reminded him of a decade-old case in which Florida media outlets filed suit over the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s refusal to cough up records related to an academic cheating scandal at Florida State University. The outlets sought documents that an FSU-hired law firm accessed from the NCAA as the firm prepared an appeal of the penalties the NCAA had imposed.

The lawyers signed confidentiality agreements with the NCAA and used a secure computer to access the documents. Florida courts ruled that the documents were public because they were examined by a public agency’s lawyers and used in the course of the agency’s business.

Goldstein said LSU officials clearly believed they would have had to disclose records of the investigation of the administrators, if such records existed — because they went out of their way to avoid possessing them.

“What does stand out to me is this looks like a transaction designed to avoid creating a public record,” Goldstein said. “Is Louisiana law intended to test how clever you are? Or is it intended to tell you what to do?”

And Kevin Cope, an LSU professor and vice president of the Association of Louisiana Faculty Senates, said that if LSU wants people to believe the results of the Taylor Porter investigation, then the university needs to release evidence from it.

“Sequestering the evidence looks inherently suspicious and raises doubt in any reading community,” Cope said.

State Sen. Dan Claitor, a Baton Rouge Republican, said he agreed with LSU’s position that the records should not be released to the public if they fell under attorney-client privilege exceptions. But he said he understands the questioning of the process as well.

“Was that a maneuver to keep it that way?” Claitor asked. “I don’t know. If the folks are exonerated by their own investigators, then you have to take that with a grain of salt. If I hire you to investigate me, how important or reliable will that investigation be?”

He said it may be worth reviewing whether there’s a better way of keeping the public and university students and parents informed about the status of campus officials when they are being investigated over their handling of hazing allegations.

Though LSU said the Taylor Porter investigation found administrators had no knowledge of prior actionable hazing allegations at DKE, records show the university received at least two warnings over the past three years about problematic behavior at the fraternity. In 2016, a mother reported to LSU that her son left school because of the stress from pledging DKE and said members believed her son was a "rat."

LSU did not document any investigation prompted by the complaint, or any punishments meted out as a result. And last year, the mother of a DKE pledge told LSU that she was concerned about her son’s description of “hell week” at the fraternity. LSU left it up to local alumni to investigate the allegation; an alumnus said he checked with the fraternity members who assured him everything was OK.

Some observers found the university's response timid.

“I just don’t understand how anyone can have titles concerning Greek life and not have some idea what’s going on at a significant number of the fraternity houses,” said David Easlick, the former longtime national director of DKE and now an expert witness in hazing cases.


Follow Andrea Gallo on Twitter, @aegallo.​