Hazing News

Crucial U-Delaware fraternity civil legal case in death of Brett Griffin disputes SAE former chapter president Jason Matthew Aaron and former pledge master Matthew A. Siracusa putting blame on Brett


But Doug Fierberg, an attorney for Griffin’s parents, told jurors that Aaron and Siracusa planned and oversaw a pledge program that involved “significant hazing,” including basement rituals in which pledges donned “play clothes” and were pressured to consume various foods and beverages, including milk, until they vomited.

In a text message to a friend a day or two before he died, Griffin said he was “going mentally insane” because of the pledge process, according to Fierberg.

“I’m going to get way too drunk tonight,” Griffin allegedly wrote in another text on the day of the party.

At the time, according to former UD official Matthew Lenno, the Delta Lambda chapter was prohibited from having parties or engaging in other social activities. It had been charged two months earlier with violating rules regarding fraternities, including rules regarding alcohol, and agreed to pay a $3,000 fine. Lenno, now director of fraternity and sorority life at Towson University in Maryland, previously held several jobs working with students at UD, where he regularly lectured fraternity leaders and pledges about hazing and alcohol use.

Lenno said fraternity pledges often face peer pressure to drink, and that “big-little” night is one of three “deadly nights” where fraternity members are likely to drink heavily. The others are induction, or bid night, and initiation night.

In addition to being introduced to his big brother, Griffin was told on the night he died that their “family drink” was Southern Comfort, said Fierberg.

“Take that whole bottle to your face, Pass out. Make a memory,” Aaron had advised pledges, according to Fierberg.

Fierberg said Griffin started drinking around 9:30 p.m. By midnight, he was among half a dozen pledges taken upstairs at a frat house to recover from drunken stupors. Griffin was propped on his side with pillows, unable to talk or move, with a trash can near his head in case he vomited.

Almost three hours later, Fierberg said, Griffin’s new big brother, Michael Bassett, received a text message: “Your little (brother) is foaming at the mouth.”

But a 911 call was not made until almost 10 minutes later, shortly before 3 a.m.

Susan Owens, an emergency room physician employed by George Washington University Hospital in Washington, D.C, testified that Griffin likely would have survived with no permanent injuries had the 911 call been made by 1:30 a.m.

By Hank Nuwer

Journalist Hank Nuwer is the Alaska author of Hazing: Destroying Young Lives; Broken Pledges: The Deadly Rite of Hazing, High School Hazing, Wrongs of Passage and The Hazing Reader. In April of 2024, the Alaska Press Club awarded him first place in the Best Columnist division and Best Humorist, second place.

He has written articles or columns on hazing for the Sunday Times of India, Toronto Globe & Mail, Harper's Magazine, Orlando Sentinel, The Chronicle of Higher Education and the New York Times Sunday Magazine. His current book is Hazing: Destroying Young Lives from Indiana University Press. He is married to Malgorzata Wroblewska Nuwer of Warsaw, Poland and Fairbanks, Alaska. Nuwer is a former columnist for the Greenville (Ohio)Early Bird and former managing editor of the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner in Alaska.
Nuwer was named the Ohio Society of Professional Journalists columnist of the year in 2021 for his “After Darke” column in the Early Bird. He also won third place for the column in 2022 from the Indiana chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. He and his wife Gosia, recently of Union City, Ind., have owned 20 acres in Alaska for many years. “The move is a sort-of coming home for us,” said Nuwer. As a journalist, he’s written about the Alaskan Iditarod sled-dog race and other Alaska topics. Read his musings in his blog at Real Alaska Daily-- and in his weekly column "Far from Randolph" in the Winchester Star-Gazette of Randolph County, Indiana.

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