One day in September, Maxwell Gruver received a phone message from a member of the fraternity he hoped to join.
Bible study at 10 p.m., he was instructed.
The event was far less innocent than the code name suggested. "Bible Study" was an initiation game where pledges are quizzed about the history of the fraternity and forced to drink alcohol if they answer incorrectly, LSU police reports say.
Police say Gruver, an 18-year-old freshman transplant from Roswell, Georgia, repeatedly flubbed answers and drank, and he died the next day from alcohol poisoning and aspiration. And 10 arrest warrants filed Wednesday for a group of mostly Phi Delta Theta brothers, say witnesses told authorities that Gruver was targeted by a more senior member of the fraternity who had a dislike for Gruver because of his frequent tardiness.
It would be Sean-Paul Gott, an active member of Phi Delta Theta from Lafayette, who sent the initial beckon. He called some pledges and used the GroupMe smart phone messaging app to reach others to notify them of the evening events, the LSU police investigation found.
At around 9:30 p.m., about 20 pledges arrived at the two-story fraternity house on LSU’s campus, located only a few yards away from the University Lab School, a K-12 institution.
Once they arrived, police say Sean Pennison, a fraternity brother from Mandeville, took the pledges’ phones.
The young hopefuls were instructed to get a Solo cup of lemonade, which they would use as a chaser in the drinking game ahead.
Matthew Naquin, from Fair Oaks Ranch, Texas, Ryan Isto, from Canada, Gott and a former LSU student named Patrick Forde, from Westwood, Massachusetts, descended the stairs from the second floor of the house.
“Are you ready for Bible study?” yelled Naquin, who would be identified in interviews as the most aggressive hazer. “Y’all better do well; I’m already f***** up.”
The pledges arranged themselves in a single file, and were told to go upstairs. Gott doused them in mustard and hot sauce, police say.
Then in the hallway, they were forced to stand with their nose and toes against the wall. The only light in the room came from a flashing strobe light. Loud music blared.
The questions began. Wrong answers meant the pledge had to take three- to five-second “pulls” of Diesel, a 190 proof alcohol, police say.
“Louder,” an active member named Hudson Kirkpatrick, of Baton Rouge, allegedly instructed a pledge as they answered questions.
But Gruver took the brunt of the punishment that night, witnesses told police.
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Throughout the evening, at least one pledge interviewed by investigators, said Gruver took 10-12 pulls of Diesel, while the other pledges had three to four at most.
“Pledge drink,” Naquin screamed, a police report says.
Pledges and active members interviewed by police said Naquin didn't like Gruver because he was frequently late for events. One pledge said Naquin had told him he wanted Gruver cut from the pledge process entirely.
Less than a month after starting college, LSU freshman Maxwell Gruver spent the last hours o…
In one phase of the quiz, pledges were told to recite the Greek alphabet — this is where Gruver really faltered. An active member of the fraternity told law enforcement that “Gruver kept messing up the alphabet and Naquin was ‘forcing’ him to drink," a police report says.
Every pledge interviewed by law enforcement and some active members, according to the warrants, said “Naquin was the most aggressive by far during the hazing event.” But others told police that Gott, who has since that night left school, and Isto were also punishing.
At least two fraternity brothers grew uncomfortable and asked Naquin and Gott to “cut it out” and to “slow it down,” because the initiation was out of hand, reports allege.
At other parts of the night pledges were forced to do wall sits, hovering in the air with their backs against the walls, as active members walked across their knees. Pledges were forced to carry the weight of active members who were standing on a small book containing the history of Phi Delta Theta, the police report says.
In a chaotic moment, police say Gott struck a pledge in the eye with a bottle, which yielded a severe black eye. The pledge said it was an accident.
Gruver, highly intoxicated, was placed on the couch sometime after midnight. Members living in the house told authorities they checked on him until 3 a.m.
At 9 a.m., several brothers in the house observed Gruver still on the couch. His pulse was weak and they couldn’t be sure he was breathing. They then decided to take Gruver to the hospital, the report says.
East Baton Rouge Parish Coroner Beau Clark said that Gruver arrived at the hospital at 11 a.m. and was pronounced dead. A search warrant, released last week, stated that members of the fraternity checked on him at 11 a.m., and immediately took him to the hospital. Asked about the discrepancy in timelines, LSU spokesman Ernie Ballard said he could confirm only the arrest warrants, which included the two-hour lapse.
An autopsy found that Gruver’s blood alcohol content was 0.495 – more than six times the legal limit to drive. His death, the coroner said, was an accident but could be attributed to alcohol poisoning and aspiration, which means he suffocated on his own vomit.
On Wednesday, almost a month after Gruver died, 10 of the young men who participated in the event were told to go to LSU Police Department to surrender for arrests.
“Today’s arrests underscore that the ramifications of hazing can be devastating,” LSU President F. King Alexander said in a statement. “Maxwell Gruver’s family will mourn his loss for the rest of their lives, and several students are now facing serious consequences – all due to a series of poor decisions.”
All 10 were booked with misdemeanor hazing, and only Naquin received the additional charge of negligent homicide.
Nine of the 10 men arrested on hazing counts in connection to the death of 18-year-old LSU fraternity pledge Maxwell Gruver – including the ma…
They all showed up separately, some with attorneys, some with family and some alone. But each of them declined to comment to reporters and sat wordlessly in the waiting room of the police department as they waited to be processed.
One by one, each of them left the police department, escorted from a back door of the police department in handcuffs, to be taken to East Baton Rouge Parish Prison. Naquin’s bond was set at $10,000 dollars. The other nine had bonds set at $5,000.
Neither Naquin nor his attorney would comment on the allegations against him on Wednesday.
"Out of respect for Maxwell Gruver's parents and family, I don't want to say a whole lot at this point," attorney John McLindon said. "I want to wait for all the evidence to come in."
But attorneys representing the other members rose to the defense of their clients.
“We express our sympathy and condolences to the family for a very regretful event,” said attorney J. David Bourland, who is representing Zachary Hall. “I’m confident my client has committed no infraction of the law and certainly not hazing.”
Aiden Reynolds, an attorney for Nicholas Taulli, said he’s done his own interviews for the past three weeks that substantiate much of what is detailed in the arrest warrants. But he stressed LSU police made a mistake with regard to Taulli, who he said was “barely there that evening.”
“Between 10 and 11:30 p.m. my client was in and out ferrying people to and from the house,” Reynolds said. “How can you be charged with a crime if you’re not present?”
Franz Borghardt, representing Pennison, noted that with the exception of Naquin, the men were not being booked in Gruver's death, but solely one count each of misdemeanor hazing.
“Max was a part of the fraternity; he was their friend,” Borghardt said.
Naquin, 19, of 7650 Keeneland Drive, Fair Oaks Ranch, Texas, was booked on negligent homicide and hazing. Also booked with hazing were Gott, 21, of 105 Portage Court, Lafayette; Isto, 18, of 1511 Fairmount St., Baton Rouge; Forde, 20, of 65 Sycamore Drive, Westwood, Massachusetts; Taulli, 19, of 15926 Cypress Hall Drive, Cypress, Texas; Kirkpatrick, 19, of 5235 North Chalet Court, Baton Rouge; and Pennison, 21, of 1410 Montmarte St., Mandeville, Louisiana.
Police did not describe as much about the actions of three other LSU students present at the fraternity house that night, except to assert they participated in the hazing: Elliott Eaton, 20, of 5600 Lacour Monique, New Orleans; Hall, 21, of 2017 Greenway Ave., Charlotte, North Carolina; and Zachary Castillo, 19, of 844 Glencove Lane, Terrytown. Castillo was not a member of the fraternity, police say.
East Baton Rouge District Attorney Hillar Moore III said his intent is to take the entire case to a grand jury to determine indictments for each individual as well as consider the entire group's actions. He said he's also looking into the possibility of a conspiracy in this case in the form of obstruction of justice in some way.
However, he said they continue to look for more evidence that might show others were also involved.
"We would ask anybody who has any information to please call LSU police or my office," Moore said. He said they would consider other charges pending further evidence.