Matthew Naquin

Prosecutors are hoping to recover hundreds of files deleted from the phone of the former LSU fraternity member accused in the 2017 hazing death of Max Gruver. 

In a search warrant filed Wednesday, prosecutors are requesting that Google turn over account information and content, as well as all deleted data, from two Google accounts associated with Matthew Naquin’s phone from August through December 2017. Gruver died on Sept. 14, 2017. 

Officials believe Naquin, 21, erased much of his phone's content during the criminal investigation of Gruver's death, but hope he used the two Google accounts to back up his phone's files and data, according to the search warrant. 

Gruver, an 18-year-old from Roswell, Georgia, died of alcohol poisoning following a hazing ritual dubbed “Bible study,” in which Phi Delta Theta pledges were required to chug hard liquor if they gave wrong answers to questions about the fraternity. Both pledges and active Phi Delta Theta members identified Naquin as the leader of the hazing ritual, and the most aggressive, in interviews with investigators. Naquin has been charged with negligent homicide. Two other former fraternity members have already pleaded guilty to misdemeanor hazing in the case. 

In March, the FBI unlocked Naquin's phone after a long legal battle over privacy rights and after addressing technological roadblocks. Naquin declined to provide authorities with the passcode to his phone after an initial search warrant was filed to search the device. His attorney, John McLindon, had also argued that accessing his client's phone was a violation of his fundamental right to privacy, later calling the FBI's crack of the phone a "big blow to privacy rights."

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“Data was retrieved from his phone but a significant amount of data was deleted from his phone after Mr. Gruver’s death," the warrant says. The prior search warrant for his phone was filed in November 2017, and prosecutors believe Naquin deleted much of his phone's data that day. 

By running a data extraction report, officials determined “that hundreds of data files were deleted from Mr. Naquin’s phone on the very night, November 8, 2017, at 9:58 p.m., that this Honorable Court signed said search warrant," the search warrant filed Wednesday says. “The state hopes to recover the deleted phone data from Google."

East Baton Rouge District Attorney Hillar Moore III said they hope this latest search warrant will give them the deleted files, as well as help them understand how and why the files were deleted and when they were.

“The timing for us is surely something we’re very interested in,” Moore said Thursday. But he would not say whether his office is considering additional charges, like obstruction of justice. “We'll just continue to investigate,” he said.

An attorney representing Naquin, Brant Mayer, said their team is still working to review the data prosecutors were able to mine from the phone after the FBI unlocked it. He said they will wait to comment on this new search warrant until they can determine for themselves what was, and was not, available on the phone.

In 2017, Google reported they received more than 97,000 requests from government authorities to disclose user data, and that in about 65 percent of those cases, they produced some data

"Generally speaking, for us to produce any data, the request must be made in writing, signed by an authorized official of the requesting agency and issued under an appropriate law," reads a statement on a webpage that explains Google's policy on transparency. "If we believe a request is overly broad, we'll seek to narrow it."

Naquin, of Fair Oaks Ranch, Texas, is set to stand trial July 8 on negligent homicide, a charge that can carry up to five years in prison.

An autopsy showed Gruver's blood-alcohol level was 0.495 percent, which is more than six times the legal limit to drive in Louisiana. The autopsy also detected the chemical found in marijuana, THC, in his system.

Follow Grace Toohey on Twitter, @grace_2e.