San Diego State, CSU, Phi Gamma Delta sued for negligence in death of SDSU freshman Dylan Hernandez

Dylan+Hernandez%2C+a+freshman+at+SDSU%2C+died+on+Nov.+8+after+falling+off+his+bunk+bed+in+his+dorm+room.+He+had+attended+a+fraternity+party+before+the+incident.

Courtesy of SDSU

Dylan Hernandez, a freshman at SDSU, died on Nov. 8 after falling off his bunk bed in his dorm room. He had attended a fraternity party before the incident.

by Brenden Tuccinardi, Editor in Chief

Content Warning: Detailed descriptions of hazing

Last week, the father of Dylan Hernandez – the San Diego State freshman who died last year –  filed a wrongful death lawsuit in San Diego County Superior Court. The suit alleges SDSU, the California State University and Phi Gamma Delta fraternity (among nearly 20 other defendants) were negligent in the death of the 19-year old fraternity pledge. 

On Nov. 8, 2019, Hernandez fell from the top-bunk in his Tenochca dorm room and died from blunt force trauma to the head. He had been partying at an off-campus fraternity house hours before with his future Phi Gamma Delta fraternity brothers at the frat’s “Big Brother, Little Brother Night,” the lawsuit alleges.  

After the initial news that a student had been hospitalized following a fraternity event, SDSU President Adela de la Torre suspended all 14 Interfraternity Council chapters. Following Hernandez’s death, de la Torre assembled two task forces on student safety and fraternity misconduct. 

According to the complaint filed on Nov. 25, Hernandez and his fellow Phi Gamma Delta pledges had allegedly been “blindfolded, taken upstairs, screamed at, threatened and hit. Then, one by one, the pledges were walked downstairs blindfolded into a room full of members to learn who their ‘big brother’ and ‘family’ would be.”

The complaint goes on to detail a night of forced drinking and other hazing practices.  

“Each underage pledge was again screamed at and demeaned, beaten with paddles and hands, and forced to consume shots of Vodka and Rum to the point of intoxication.”

According to findings from an investigation conducted by University Police, Hernandez had a blood alcohol content of 0.23% when he left the party. The legal limit to drive a car is 0.08% or higher. 

The lawsuit also names SDSU President Adela de la Torre, individual fraternity members and the manufacturer of the bunk-bed Hernandez fell from. 

The suit alleges that by allowing Phi Gamma Delta to host parties at the fraternity house, allowing students, including Hernandez, to be subjected to hazing, failing to discipline Phi Gamma Delta after documented violations of state law regarding hazing, and allowing Phi Gamma Delta to remain active, SDSU and the CSU breached their duty of care. 

SDSU provided the following statement defending themselves:

The University has not seen the lawsuit and is not able to provide any comment at this time.   

We can, however, share what actions the university has taken since November 2019 and in response to the two task force group recommendations and as part of our ongoing efforts to advance the safety of our students.

On Nov. 12, 2019, SDSU President Adela de la Torre commissioned two task force groups: the Presidential Task Force on Student Activities and Safety, and the Presidential Task Force on Alcohol and Substance Misuse.

Both task force groups completed their assessments and shared their recommendations earlier this year. Many of the recommendations offered are now being implemented, and include the following: 

  • The Good Samaritan Policy for Recognized Student Organizations has been implemented. All SDSU student organizations are encouraged to report concerns about health and safety and to also seek timely assistance from appropriate emergency personnel and SDSU staff. Students and student organizations will not be penalized for making reports or seeking support. 
  • A Hazing Prevention Task Force to combat hazing has been established at the recommendation of task force members, and members have had their first meeting this fall. Students, faculty, staff and organization community advisors will be appointed to serve as task force members. During the ongoing pandemic, all social fraternities and sororities are required to provide formal acknowledgement of anti-hazing policies. This policy will remain in place after public health orders restricting gatherings are lifted. 
  • All Interfraternity Council-member organizations are expected to participate in the SDSU-hosted New Member Education Symposiums and enhanced accreditation program expectations, which will be strengthened with a greater emphasis on risk management, new member education and community wellness. 

It is important to emphasize that while these actions have been taken in the last year, SDSU has a decades-long history of actively and proactively addressing student health and well-being. 

A more comprehensive timeline dating back to the early 2000s is available on the Presidential Task Force Groups site.”

The lawsuit alleges that the SDSU knew about hazing violations, drug and alcohol violations, and allegations of sexual assault involving Phi Gamma Delta as far back as 2013. 

On August 13, 2020, SDSU’s chapter of Phi Gamma Delta was expelled from campus until 2030. 

SDSU has a reputation for turning the other way when it comes to fraternity misconduct. In 2018, a Daily Aztec investigation found that the university kept information about six-years worth of violations by  Phi Kappa Theta from the public.

A recent investigation by The San Diego Union-Tribune found that 40% of Greek organizations at SDSU were under investigation between 2014 and 2019. 

In a claim form filed with the CSU, lawyers for the Hernandez family wrote that “SDSU and its agents have continued to misinform the public, their students and their students’ parents” about potential risks and dangers the university has been aware of. The claim also details alleged repeat violations by SDSU of the California Public Records Act and Freedom of Information Act. 

“SDSU and its agents have a choice to make,” the claim form states. “They can act like an institute of higher education and lookout for the best interests of their students and their families, or they can act like a corrupt business and place higher profits above the law and safe practices.”

The Hernandez family demanded a jury trial and is seeking an unspecified amount in damages.

Jadyn Brandt and Katelynn Robinson contributed reporting to this story. 

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