Four students were dismissed from a Florida university in connection with the death of a drum major last month in what officials have called a hazing-related incident, a spokeswoman for the school told CNN.
Authorities have not specified what caused 26-year-old Robert Champion's death after a performance earlier this month with the Marching 100 band from Florida A&M University (FAMU). Officials said hazing was involved, and his family has said it plans to sue the school "to get answers."
Under Florida law, any death that occurs as the result of hazing is a third-degree felony.
"At the center of my focus is the life of a young man that ended too early," President James H. Ammons said in a memo to the Board of Trustees on Tuesday.
"I want to report that four (4) students have been dismissed from the University in connection to the Robert Champion incident," he said in the memo. "Further, 30 students were dismissed from the band prior to the Florida Classic."
No reason was given for the dismissal of those 30 students.
In the memo, the president emphasized that any hazing accusations occurring in any campus organizations must be reported to the campus police.
"This is not a time for silence; if there are cases of misconduct then we encourage people to report these to the proper authorities," he said.
After the death, Ammons suspended all band performances and said he will convene a task force "to determine if there are any unauthorized and questionable activities associated with the culture of the Marching 100."
In addition, FAMU moved to fire longtime band director Julian E. White. White had led the 420-member band since 1998 and has hired an attorney to fight for his job.
"We believe that he was not treated with the respect that was due," Tallahassee attorney Chuck Hobbs said. He described as "ludicrous" the university's assertion that White did not do what he could do to address hazing.
White said he had told the victim's parents about their son's death.
"That was extremely difficult for me," he said. "I wish that this could have been avoided. I took the necessary steps that this tragedy could have been avoided."
David Frank, a Tallahassee lawyer who represented another hazing victim, said it was not clear whether it was White or others who were at fault for this hazing incident.
Frank filed a suit against the school on behalf of a band trumpeter, Marcus W. Parker, who was beaten in 2001. Frank won the case for undisclosed damages (FAMU's sovereign immunity caps its liability for a negligence action at $100,000) and won another case against those who beat his client for $1.8 million, he told CNN in a telephone interview.
Frank described the hazing as part of a deep tradition with the band, where each section acts like a fraternity. "The trumpet section was the Screaming Eagles," Frank said. "The school says you don't have to be a member of this fraternity. That's just horse s***. You couldn't survive as a trumpeter if you were not a member of the Screaming Eagles."
The beatings were meted out with paddles, but that doesn't fully describe what happens, he said. "Paddling is just the wrong word for it. It's vicious beating. I think one guy got hit over 100 times. And this is a solid wood paddle. This isn't some Wiffle bat. This is something that would kill you."
In Parker's case, he was hit 30 times in his buttocks - "so hard they put him into renal failure," Frank said. "His kidneys stopped working and he had to go into the emergency room. He almost died."FULL STORY