Showing posts with label Phi Delta Theta. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Phi Delta Theta. Show all posts

Friday, July 19, 2019

Let the Good Times Roll! Murder, Corruption, Abuse, and Negligent Homicide in South Louisiana

I was obsessed by Hurricane Barry, which, the media assured us, was going to overtop the levees and destroy New Orleans. Mesmerized, I watched the Weather Channel so much last week that I feel like I  should get an online degree in meteorology.

But Barry punked out on us with minimal damage so I turned my attention to reading the local news. So what's going on in South Louisiana?

Matthew Naquin, a former LSU student and fraternity member, was convicted of negligent homicide in the death of Max Gruver, an LSU freshman from Georgia. Gruver's Phi Delta Theta fraternity brothers forced Gruver to chug hard liquor in a hazing exercise the frat boys euphemistically called "Bible study." Gruver died of alcohol poisoning, so full of booze that a testifying toxicologist said he was "a dead man walking." At the time of his death, his blood alcohol count was six times the legal limit for driving.

In other news, Ronn Jermaine Bell was arrested for the murder of Sadie Roberts-Joseph, a local civil rights activist who was found suffocated in the trunk of her car. In addition to her civil rights work, Roberts-Joseph was a landlord, and Bell was two months behind on his rent. Was Roberts-Joseph killed over a rent dispute? A motive has yet to been determined.

Also in the news, police charged Salvatore Euggino with negligent homicide in a hit-and-run accident near St. Francisville. Police say Euggino killed a 50-year-old pedestrian with his car. This incident occurred on Monday, just one day after Euggino was charged with reckless driving in another incident. According to the Baton Rouge Advocate, Euggino also faces negligent homicide charges relating to a head-on car accident last March that killed a 34-year-old woman.

Also this week, Sarah James, a 19-year-old LSU sophomore, was struck and killed by a car on Nicholson Road near the LSU campus.  Ms. James had a life full of promise ahead of her and wanted to be a doctor. The newspaper story didn't identify the car's driver.

Over in New Orleans, four police officers were fired for engaging in an unauthorized high-speed pursuit of some joyriders in a stolen car. Two teenage kids were killed when their car rammed into a hair salon. The hair salon caught fire and a woman inside was also killed.

And then today's Advocate reported that Moses Evans, a justice of the peace and former police officer, was arrested on a "litany of domestic abuse counts." According to the newspaper report, Evans is "accused of  brutally abusing his now ex-girlfriend and her three children over more than a decade, causing them severe injuries and permanent disfigurement."

Finally, Ray Nagin, New Orleans' telegenic mayor during Hurricane Katrina, lost the appeal of his conviction on charges of bribery and money laundering, rendered 5 years ago. The news story said Nagin wrote his appeal brief himself while serving time in a federal prison camp in Texas.

Much of the mayhem that occurs in South Louisiana takes place at the margins of society, and middle-class Louisianians don't think much about the murder, abuse, and corruption that the local newspaper reports on a daily basis. Laissez les bons temps rouler, we like to say. Let the good times roll!

But maybe Louisianans could do more as individuals to nurture a saner and healthier culture. Perhaps we could slow down a little bit, drive a little slower, drink a little less, try to be a little more civic-minded, and let the good times roll at a more moderate pace. Or maybe, to borrow a phrase from the immortal Merle Haggard, we'll keep our eyes closed to the pathological currents in our communities and continue to allow them to roll downhill like a snowball headed for hell.

"Are we rolling downhill like a snowball headed for hell?"

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

An anti-hazing foundation? Fraternity hazing will stop when hazers go to prison

Last August, Stephen and Rae Ann Gruver, a Georgia couple, sent their son Maxwell to LSU, where he pledged Phi Delta Theta fraternity. One month later, Max was dead, killed in a hazing episode. He had been forced to drink 190 proof alcohol in a fraternity exercise cynically titled "Bible study."

According to the coroner, Max had massive amounts of alcohol in his system at the time of his death--more than six times the legal limit. Experts said he asphyxiated in his own vomit but probably died painlessly because he was unconscious when he passed away.

Max's parents did what many parents do when they lose a child to a a senseless death; they threw themselves into a heroic effort to prevent others from dying the way their son did. In Max's honor, the Gruvers started an anti-hazing foundation, dedicated to raising public awareness about college hazing. They also distributed 30,000 silicon wristbands that say "Stop the Hazing."

In addition, the Gruvers endorsed a law that will grant "medical amnesty" to anyone who reports acute alcohol poisoning as a medical emergency. And they are calling for more transparency about fraternity hazing. If they had known about Phi Delta Theta's history of hazing, the Gruvers say, they never would have allowed Max to pledge that group.

LSU officials publicly support the Gruvers' efforts. I'm sure they were particularly pleased to hear the Gruvers' call for more transparency because "transparency" is a word college administrators dearly love. It rolls over the tongue so smoothly, like a single-malt scotch. And when college administrators use that word--and they use it often--they are never telling the truth.

Already, LSU is equivocating about some of the Gruvers' demands. Ernie Ballard, a school spokesperson, pointed out the problems with amnesty. "Every university struggles with the balance of amnesty and penalties," Ballard explained. If too many conditions are attached to amnesty, students discount its value. On the other hand, "if the amnesty is too broad, habitual offenders may not be held accountable."

LSU president F. King Alexander and Governor John Bel Edwards are talking about tougher penalties for fraternity hazing. But they are "concerned" that tougher sanctions might deter students from reporting bad behavior.

Apparently then, hazing is a conundrum--requiring long and tedious deliberation.

But here is the truth about fraternity hazing. More than forty states already have anti-hazing statutes, some of them dating back more than half a century. And many of these statutes contain amnesty or immunity provisions.

And the Clery Act, passed more than 25 years ago, requires all colleges and universities to file annual reports of criminal activity, including assaults, as a condition of receiving federal funds. The Clery Act was put in place to ensure transparency on college campuses--the very thing the Gruvers are demanding.

Nevertheless, in spite of anti-hazing statutes and the Clery Act, four college students died this year from hazing or criminally negligent drinking episodes.

Hazing won't stop on college campuses until the hazers are sent to prison. If one LSU fraternity boy were sent to Angola State Prison for pouring 190 proof alcohol down some poor kid's throat, LSU would have a lot less hazing.

And hazing won't stop until the universities are held liable for damages when hazing occurs. LSU has anti-hazing policies on its books, and it is willing to deliver a slap on the wrist to fraternities when hazing is discovered. But how much more serious would LSU be about hazing if the Gruvers obtained a quarter-of-a-billion dollar judgment against it?  A lot more serious, I warrant.

The Gruver tragedy will soon be forgotten. A few months from now, the local district attorney will conclude he has more important things to do than prosecute college boys for hazing. A deal will be struck of some kind, and no one will go to jail. LSU or some of its wealthy supporters will make a generous donation to the Max Gruver Foundation, and the Gruvers won't sue.

And next year, or two or three years from now, another college boy will die in his own vomit at a fraternity hazing exercise.  And then we will hear another call for more transparency.

Angola State Prison, where LSU hazers belong


Rebekah Allen. 'He would have done great things with his life.' 2017.The (Baton Rouge) Advocate, December 30, 2017.

Rebekah Allen, Grace Toohey, and Emma Discher. 10 booked in LSU fraternity hazing death case. The (Baton Rouge) Advocate, October 12, 2017, p. 1.

Lela Skene. LSU fraternity pledge Maxwell Gruver's 'off the charts' blood-alcohol level shocks experts. The (Baton Rouge) Advocate, October 11, 2017.