The family of a former San Diego State University student is suing the fraternity their son had pledged for, accusing its members of dumping him outside a hospital unconscious in the aftermath of an alleged hazing incident that left him in a coma.
According to the lawsuit filed by the family on April 6, Benjamin Brennan was 19 years old when members of the SDSU chapter of the Kappa Sigma fraternity “forcibly detained” him during his rush in 2021. The lawsuit said the frat brothers beat him with paddles, poured an immense amount of alcohol into his system, and forced him to take drugs as part of a final “initiation ritual.”
Brennan survived but spent three days in a coma and continues to face a long road to recovery, according to the lawsuit. The family’s attorney James Frantz told BuzzFeed News that he is walking and can speak, but he has severe depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Before the incident, Brennan was a bright student who had scored high on his SATs, Frantz said.
“He can't engage in the life that he had before,” Frantz said. “He was a happy-go-lucky guy, he was some magnet in a room, everyone loved him. Now he's not that guy.”
Brennan was six weeks into pledging with the fraternity when he received a WhatsApp message on the night of April 16, 2021, while he was working his part-time job at a restaurant, according to the lawsuit. He and other pledges were ordered to drop everything they were doing and go to the frat house for the final stage of pledging, also referred to as “Big Brother.”
Brennan left his job mid-shift, which led to him being fired, according to the lawsuit.
Upon arriving at the Kappa Sigma house, the pledges had their car keys and cellphone taken away from them in order to prevent them from leaving, requesting help, or documenting what was happening, according to the lawsuit.
One fraternity brother then allegedly ordered Brennan to drink a 750mL bottle of hard liquor within 30 minutes. Brennan was then ordered by other members to smoke cannabis and potent tobacco cigarettes, causing him to be severely inebriated, the lawsuit said.
As he was unconscious on a couch, he was repeatedly beaten with paddles. It was about an hour and a half before he was driven to a hospital and dumped in front of the emergency department, without any of the fraternity brothers escorting him in or giving hospital staff information that could have been used to treat him, the lawsuit said.
"These boys just abandoned their brother and left him for dead. That's not brotherhood," his mother, Lindsay Gibson, told ABC7.
According to the lawsuit, Brennan was admitted to the hospital and placed on life support with a 1% chance of survival. Though it had been some time since he was drinking, his blood alcohol content was 0.489, six times the legal limit of 0.08.
After dropping Brennan in front of the emergency department, the fraternity brothers allegedly tried to cover up their actions and blamed a different school's baseball team for what happened.
Frantz, the family’s lawyer, said Brennan was hesitant at first to file the lawsuit; however, he and the family wanted to send a message and make sure no one else goes through an experience like his.
“Our clients want everyone to know, all the moms and dads and all the students, that fraternities can be very dangerous and it's not to be taken lightly, and evaluate the fraternity that you're going through,” Frantz said. “Look at every— anything you can about their history and be very wary, because he had no idea. This came out of left field.”
According to its website, Kappa Sigma is the largest college fraternity in the world, with more than 250,000 living members, including over 17,000 undergraduates and nearly 300 chapters and colonies located throughout the US and Canada.
In an email to BuzzFeed News, Mitchell B. Wilson, the executive director of Kappa Sigma’s national office, said it was aware of the pending lawsuit.
“What happened to Benjamin Brennan is unacceptable under any circumstances, and the Kappa Sigma Fraternity has taken action against the individuals who were involved,” he wrote. “As an organization, we continue to adamantly oppose hazing, the misuse of alcohol and placing the health and safety of any person at risk.”
SDSU was not named in the lawsuit; however, in an email to BuzzFeed News, school officials said Kappa Sigma was suspended and expelled in 2022. The Kappa Sigma SDSU chapter has not been an approved, recognized student organization since 2020.
“At SDSU, we expect all of our students to uphold our institutional values, and for our students to also honor the policies of their local and national chapters and the distinct values of their organizations,” the email said. “As always, the university urges any member of the community to report incidents of concerns, and SDSU looks into each individual complaint and will move forward with separate investigations as warranted.”
According to SDSU, the Kappa Sigma fraternity chapter appealed the university’s decision to expel it earlier this year, but the school upheld the expulsion.