Annie Diaz (N’20) said the shouting had gone on for several minutes before she decided to leave her room on the fourth floor of the Quad. Just after 3 a.m. on April 8, she walked tentatively towards the stairwell, then quickened her steps when she heard the distinct voice of her friend, Max Arias (W’20). The scene that greeted her on the landing of the third floor was shocking: two boys, whom she later learned are Dante Benitez (W’20) and Ivan Loginov (C’20), hitting Max over and over again. Two girls, Vivian* (C’20) and Natalie* (C’20), are on the second floor landing yelling for the boys to stop. After a struggle, Dante pushes Max down a flight of stairs. Blood splatters onto the walls and begins to pool around his head.
On Monday, Sept. 18 at 10 a.m., Dante and Ivan will stand trial for simple assault, recklessly endangering another person, conspiracy and other related charges. (A series of felony charges, including criminal trespassing and aggravated assault, were dismissed earlier.) Several eyewitnesses to the fight in the Quad, and the party preceding it, described the events of April 8 to 34th Street Magazine. Max was interviewed for close to two hours. Vivian did not respond to calls, texts and emails requesting comment. James Funt, Dante’s attorney, provided a statement recounting his actions during the night and showed Street a text conversation between Dante and Vivian. Ivan declined to comment through his attorney, Brian McMonagle. A spokesperson for the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office declined to comment, citing the department’s policy to not discuss ongoing cases. Any events not directly attributed in this piece are either undisputed, confirmed by several independent witnesses or verified by photographic evidence.
The impending trial has raised difficult, important questions about the nature of consent and what it means to be an active bystander. No clean resolutions are likely in any story like this—complete with blotted memories, bias and alcohol–fueled chaos.
Hours before he finds himself lying on a bed in the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, face bloodied and nose fractured, Max Arias is on his way to a party. He wears sweatpants and a white t-shirt with an American flag across it. Emblazoned below the flag is a word: “Nantucket.”
It’s around 2 a.m. on Saturday when Max says he turns onto Chancellor Street, a small alleyway that juts out from the back of the Cinemark movie theater. Since beginning the initiation process at THEOS, an off–campus organization that functions like a fraternity, Max has spent countless hours inside the two-story house at the end of Chancellor. Tonight, THEOS is hosting a party with a few sororities and it’s not long before Max has a couple of drinks.
Max says he sees Ivan walk in soon after him and waves hello. Ivan is a member of OWLS, a different off–campus organization. Max knows Ivan about as well as he knows Vivian, a freshman in Kappa Alpha Theta whom he’s seen at previous parties. By this time, Vivian has taken several shots, mixed different types of alcohol, and played multiple rounds of the drinking game SlapCup, says Natalie, a close friend who was also at the party. Max later says that he believes Vivian was not drunk. “From talking to her she seemed very coherent,” he said. “From a reasonable person’s perspective she didn't seem by any means intoxicated or under the influence.” Five other partygoers besides Natalie told Street that Vivian was visibly drunk.
Natalie leaves before Max arrives and tells Dante, another freshman in OWLS, to look out for Vivian. Dante is close to Vivian and has known her since high school. Throughout the party, Dante and his friends text each other to make sure they have eyes on her. A close friend notices Vivian's eyelids keep lowering and walks up to her intermittently to check that she's okay.
Around twenty minutes after Max enters, he and Vivian start to kiss. Dante spots them, but doesn’t confront Max until he tries to head up to the second floor with her. Dante says he tells Max he can hook up with Vivian any other time, but has to stop tonight—she’s too drunk to consent. Max agrees to leave her alone, according to Dante’s account, but just a few minutes later, they’re back to kissing. (Three eyewitnesses independently report seeing Dante talk to Max, but he denies this encounter ever happened. “Nope, absolutely not,” Max says when asked if he and Dante had a conversation during the party.)
Dante and his friends decide to leave the two alone, as long as they’re in full view of the rest of the partygoers, but he says they eventually lose sight of the pair. One of Dante’s attorneys, James Funt, says that towards the end of the party, Dante kept a lookout at the front entrance of the THEOS house to see when Vivian and Max would leave. Another of Vivian’s close friends confirms that she and Dante kept watch together at the front door. When Max and Vivian never come out, they assume that the pair has left through a back door. (Max says later that only the front door to the THEOS house was in operation during the party. He is adamant that he and Vivian left through the front door.)
Dante meets up with Ivan on his way out of the party. Using the FindMyFriends app, they track Vivian’s location and see that she’s headed towards the Quad. The two boys text Natalie, who lives near Vivian in the Quad, asking if she can intercept Max and Vivian at the Upper Quad gate. Natalie says she hasn’t seen them.
Natalie, Dante, and Ivan meet up at Upper Quad Gate. They make their way to the fourth floor of New York Alumni Hall, to Max’s room.
From here, the stories Max, Dante, Ivan and several witnesses tell—already divergent in bits and details—proceed down wildly different paths.
By Max’s account, the two boys charge into the room to find him and Vivian sitting across each other on the bed. He asks Dante and Ivan what they’re doing before Ivan yells, “Shut up!” and hits him across the face. Max, who is six–feet–one–inches, stands up and punches Ivan back before Dante knocks him onto the floor. For minutes, Max claims, he is covering his face as Dante and Ivan kick and punch him.
“I’ve never felt so powerless and defenseless in my life,” Max says later. “It just wouldn’t stop.”
In Dante’s statement, he describes Ivan walking into Max’s room to find him on top of Vivian. When Ivan says to Max, “What are you doing?” he yells back, “Get out,” and “It’s none of your business.” Dante also says it is Max who throws the first punch at Ivan after he tries to separate him from Vivian. Dante, who says he is standing by the door at the time with Natalie, rushes in to defend Ivan, putting Max in a headlock and bringing him onto the ground. The three boys struggle as Ivan and Dante repeatedly yell, “Stop it, it’s over, it’s done.” Eventually, Max says, “OK, OK, I’m done!” and Dante lets him go. According to Dante, all of this happens in less than a minute.
Months later, Dante and Ivan argue in a pretrial hearing that the fight came about as a way to prevent a possible sexual assault. “On Penn’s campus itself, we are told in many forms that we have an obligation not to let another person get hurt if we are in a position to do something about it,” Dante wrote in his statement. “I have read multiple articles in [The Daily Pennsylvanian] explicitly stating how Penn is trying to eradicate, or at least minimize to a realistic extent, the sexual assault culture on this campus. That was my intention that night, and that was the intention of Ivan.”
Around seven months before the fight, Penn student protesters start a months–long campaign to eradicate rape culture—an environment with a permissive attitude toward sexual violence. The campaign, propped up by the feminist group “We Are Watching,” begins after a campus uproar over a publicized party invitation from unofficial fraternity OZ, which specifically targeted freshman women using sexually aggressive language. This came just a year after a survey administered by the American Association of Universities revealed that almost a third of Penn undergraduate women reported experiencing “nonconsensual penetration or sexual touching by force or incapacitation.”
To Max, even a charitable reading of Dante and Ivan’s behavior as active bystanders does not justify the extent of their attack. “They made no attempt to contact campus security or police or any of the Penn hotlines and any of the numerous resources we have to address that sort of situation,” he says. If the fight truly began as a means to separate Vivian from Max, he argues, there would have been no need for a second part to the fight.
Nonetheless, as multiple witnesses establish, the fight restarts after the initial conflict in Max’s room. In Max’s telling, he staggers away from Dante and Ivan down the staircase when, between the second and third floor landings, he encounters them again. Dante grapples with him before putting him into a headlock. After Dante manages to wring himself free, he momentarily puts Max in a headlock as Ivan starts to uppercut him again and again, Max says. Eventually, Dante shoves Max down the stairs, and he falls about six feet onto the second floor landing, hitting his head against the wall.
Some members of his hall, including Annie and Maria Riillo (C’20), a current Street staff writer, who had been watching the fight from the second floor landing, say they rushed down the stairs to shield Max from further harm. Dante and Ivan take Vivian’s arm, and they run out of the building, Annie says. Neither of the two boys appeared to be injured, say both Annie and Maria. In a text message Dante sends to Vivian later in the morning, he says, “i got suckerpunched in the side of the head like 3 times near the end so i have a little headache but besides that it’s just like bruised back and knuckles so no big deal.”
Dante and Natalie paint a different story of what restarted the fight. He says Vivian, who is still inside the room until this point, cries as she walks over to Natalie at the door. Dante and Ivan turn their heads to leave when Max hits Ivan in the back of the head—in their separate retellings, Dante and Max each accuse the other of re-initiating the brawl. Dante brings Max to the floor until he says again that he’s done. At this point, Natalie and Vivian leave the threshold of the room and make their way down the stairs with Ivan in front of them and Dante behind them.
Within a minute or so, Ivan exits the building when Dante says Max runs after the group, screaming for Ivan. He apparently stops Dante in between the third and second floor landings, shouting, “I’m so big, you don’t want to fight me!” Dante says he replies by telling Max that Vivian is too drunk, and that he shouldn’t have taken her to his room. Max yells back, “Yeah, she is drunk, but so am I!”
As Max gets more agitated, Dante tells Vivian and Natalie, who are steps away from the second floor landing, to get out of the building, according to Dante’s account. (Natalie says later that she does not remember this exchange.) Just as he turns his back to address the girls, he says Max runs down the stairs, and strikes him several times on the side of his head. He places Dante in a headlock and begins choking him, according to Dante’s statement. Dante flails and struggles to breathe. He finally takes a step down the stairs, places his elbow at Max’s side and jerks his head forward, breaking free from the chokehold. He then pushes Max, sending him tumbling down the stairs onto Natalie and Vivian, who also fall onto the floor.
Ivan, who by Dante’s account isn’t even involved in the second part of the fight until this point, comes back into the building, and helps Natalie, Vivian, and Dante leave.
Sometime after the fight, an ambulance arrives to take Max to HUP, but he chooses to walk from the Quad to 33rd and Walnut Streets to avoid paying for the trip. After multiple x–rays, he is put in a neck brace and his wrist is splinted. For weeks after, he shows symptoms of a concussion. When his parents, both lawyers, arrive at the hospital in the early hours of the morning from the Philadelphia suburbs, they quickly decide on a course of action: to press criminal charges.
Later in the day, two Penn Police officers interview Max and take pictures of his injuries. For close to three weeks, he does not step foot in a classroom. It’s only with the help of a few friends that he is able to successfully study for and take final exams in two of his classes.
After the fight, Max remained in shock. Annie said when she helped him up to his room, he repeated over and over again, “They jumped me. They came into my room and jumped me.” One of Max’s friends, Andy Shao (W’20), also said Max was clearly distressed when he called him from the hospital after the attack.
As Max struggled to come to terms with his injuries and began the process of filing charges, Vivian reached out to Dante.
At 10:55 a.m. that Saturday, she texted him: “hi i’m so sorry about yesterday clearly i really fucked up and started a ton of drama and i’m so so sorry. thank you for coming to get me i was way too drunk to be there. i am so sorry that’s how things went down and i should have done more to stop it and get everyone out. thank you for getting me though.”
“love you dante,” she added.
James Funt, one of Dante’s attorneys, provided screenshots of the text exchange to Street. When asked about the conversation, Max unflinchingly affirms his version of events. “In her statement to Penn detectives, she says something completely to the contrary. And again, I’ve seen the statement, I’ve read it, and what it says unequivocally was that she was there in my room consensually and that decision was not at all impeded by alcohol that night,” he says. “I never saw her drinking, and to the best of my knowledge she was not drunk. She wasn’t acting like it.” Street asked Max multiple times for access to the statement, but he was unable to provide it. (“As this is an open criminal case, we will not be able to comment on anything related to the investigation until the criminal case is concluded,” a spokesperson for Penn Police said in an email.)
Even though the preliminary hearing in Dante and Ivan’s criminal case didn’t occur until Aug. 17, Penn told the two boys over the summer that they are on an interim suspension and banned from campus, according to Funt. “They are not currently on campus,” Penn spokesperson Stephen MacCarthy said when asked about Dante and Ivan’s enrollment status.
Both Dante and Ivan have hired expensive, influential defense attorneys who seem almost preternaturally attuned to the particular needs of this case. According to his web page, Funt “does not shy away from the difficult or unpopular case” and “understands that often it is just as important to defend a client’s reputation in the court of public opinion as well as the courtroom, and will use every tool at his disposal to ensure that his clients receive fair treatment throughout their ordeal.”
Ivan is represented by Brian McMonagle, the lead defense attorney for Bill Cosby who helped the embattled entertainer get a mistrial after a highly–publicized court case. The star power working for the defense is not lost on Max, who repeatedly rails against what he sees as a smear campaign. The University conducted what he views as an open-and-shut case—leading to Dante and Ivan’s furlough from Penn in the summer — with no word of this “Caped Crusader Batman and Robin act,” as he calls it, until the preliminary hearing in August. The real reason behind the attack, Max believes, was that Dante and Ivan wanted to ensure Vivian maintained an exclusive relationship with another OWLS brother. (Two of Vivian’s close friends deny that she was in a relationship at all. Max would not provide on the record the name of the OWLS brother he claims had been exclusively with Vivian.)
When the tenor of questions in the preliminary hearing from McMonagle and Ronald Greenblatt, another of Dante’s attorneys, revealed that the defense’s narrative strategy would brand him the near-perpetrator of a sexual assault, Max says he was blindsided. “I felt like everything was spinning out of control and I couldn't get anything that I knew was the truth out there,” he said, “because as soon as I would start explaining anything the next question was asked and it was equally as biased and in line with that narrative.”
“Being with him at parties; he would not bring a girl home who was too drunk to consent,” Andy says. “There have been situations where he would bring girls too drunk to consent home rather than his own room.”
That night, Max brought Vivian, whom multiple witnesses described as drunk, back to his room.
Down to even miniscule details, Max sees what he believes to be elements of the defense’s conspiracy working to undermine him. Nowhere is this dissonance clearer than in the figure of Natalie, who figures prominently in Dante’s statement as an advocate for Vivian during the THEOS party and a witness to the fight. Max denies she was ever there and claims her role in the whole ordeal was concocted by the defense as a way to prop up Dante’s version of events. While Max told Street that Natalie is Dante’s girlfriend, she says they have never dated.
Natalie was never interviewed by Penn investigators, a point Max uses to argue that her appearance during the fight is a fabrication. It’s possible Max did not see Natalie when Ivan and Dante burst into his room, as she was standing by the threshold, but highly unlikely he was unaware of her presence throughout the fight. Even Annie and Maria, friends of Max who witnessed the fight, remember seeing a second, female student apart from Vivian; a girl both of them didn’t recognize and who was likely to be Natalie.
Some conclusions emerge out of that hazy April night. Multiple, independent witnesses saw Dante speak to Max during the THEOS party even though Max continues to deny it. While Vivian’s voice is absent from this piece, leaving no firm answers from her directly as to what state of mind she was in, her close friends and other witnesses say she was visibly drunk. Against that backdrop, it is understandable that Dante and Ivan may have legitimately feared that she would be unable to consent to sexual activity. In Vivian’s own words in a text to Dante the morning of April 8, she “was way too drunk.”
Even assuming that Vivian was too drunk to go home with someone that night, why did Dante and Ivan not call a resident advisor or campus police to separate Max from Vivian? Why did they take matters in their own hands in a way that witnesses on both sides admit was violently one-sided? Dante left the fight largely unscathed. Ivan says he had a black eye.
The Penn administration’s own part in this whole equation remains unclear. Even though the University’s investigation is ongoing, Dante and Ivan are not enrolled in classes while Max remains a normal student. MacCarthy, the Penn spokesperson, would not clarify whether the two are suspended. David Rudovsky, a Penn Law School professor who is representing Ivan in the disciplinary hearing, did not respond to a request for comment.
For the people involved in this brutal fight, a deep, abiding enmity remains. “I can’t stress this enough: I could’ve died that night, easily,” Max says a few days after the preliminary hearing. “If I hadn’t been an athlete my whole life and if I had been someone else it could’ve ended up far, far, far worse than it did.”
“We had to act quickly. We did not want to fight,” Dante concluded in his statement. “We only wanted to get our friend out of harm’s way and the truth is that had Max not thrown a punch at Ivan, we would have simply led [Vivian] out of his grasp and left. What is happening to us is not fair or just.”
The trial begins next week.
*These names have been changed to pseudonyms.
Ally Johnson, the Assignments Editor of The Daily Pennsylvanian, contributed reporting to this feature.
Rebecca Tan is a College junior studying English and History from Singapore. She is the Senior News Editor of The Daily Pennsylvanian.
Dan Spinelli is a College senior studying English from the suburbs of Philadelphia. He is the Executive Editor of The Daily Pennsylvanian.
Camille Rapay is a College junior studying Communication and Fine Arts from Dobbs Ferry, N.Y. She is a Daily Pennsylvanian Design Editor.