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Newsmaker of the Week: Indictments in death of LSU student Maxwell Gruver

As LSU is implementing harsher rules for hazing incidents on campus and state lawmakers are filing bills to toughen criminal penalties for hazing, a grand jury on Thursday indicted four people involved in the death of 18-year-old LSU student Maxwell Gruver.

Gruver died at a hospital in September after a night of drinking at the Phi Delta Theta house on the LSU campus in what police have called a hazing incident.

The grand jury indicted Matthew Alexander Naquin, 20, of Boerne, Texas, on a felony negligent homicide charge, which is punishable by up to five years in prison. Three others were indicted on a misdemeanor charge of hazing: Sean-Paul Gott, 21, of Lafayette; Ryan Isto, 19, of Baton Rouge; and Patrick Forde, 21, of Westwood, Massachusetts. The misdemeanor charge is punishable by up to a maximum of 30 days in jail.

Police originally arrested 10 people in October, but prosecutors presented the grand jury with evidence of possible charges against nine of them. Ultimately, the grand jury indicted only four. Gruver’s father, Stephen, praised the work done by investigators.

“We really appreciate everything that they’ve done,” he told the media outside the downtown Baton Rouge courthouse.

East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore says Louisiana’s hazing statute doesn’t sufficiently address the harm done in this case, adding Gruver’s family is trying to rally support for changing the law to toughen the penalties.

Under Louisiana law, hazing is a misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to $100 or no more than 30 days in jail. Negligent homicide—a felony—carries a prison sentence of up to five years.

That could change if the Louisiana Legislature passes House Bill 78, by State Rep. Nancy Landry, R-Lafayette. The bill, which has been referred to the Committee on Administration of Criminal Justice, raises the fine for hazing up to $1,000, allows for as much as six months imprisonment, or permits both a fine and jail time. Hazing that results in the serious bodily injury or death of the victim would be punishable by a fine of up $10,000, and five years imprisonment, the bill’s text reads. If any person serving as a representative of an organization “knew or should have known” that members were engaged in hazing, the organization may be subject to $100,000 penalty, forfeiture of public funds as well as the loss of rights and privileges associated with operating at a Louisiana educational institution.

LSU President F. King Alexander has endorsed the bill, saying in a letter issued last month that the bill—as well as one filed by Rep. Franklin Foil to protect those who report dangerous behaviors—will help enact real change.

LSU officials, meanwhile, have reacted swiftly to Gruver’s death, adopting widespread changes to the system overseeing Greek organizations in late February. Under the new rules, any student or organization found to be responsible for hazing will be expelled from the university. Additionally, Greek houses and chapters must provide access rights to the university if they want to host social events. Access permits university officials to spot-check parties and other events to ensure policies are being followed.

“In short, university officials will have the right to spot-check parties and other events to ensure policies are being enforced,” reads a letter from King released in February. “If evidence of dangerous behavior is present, the chapter will be placed on immediate suspension and, depending on the severity of the transgressions identified, face possible removal from campus.”

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