4 FAMU students dismissed over suspected hazing death
Florida A&M University student Robert Champion, 26, became ill and died November 20.
December 1st, 2011
01:56 PM ET

4 FAMU students dismissed over suspected hazing death

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.

Calls to end hazing ring out at funeral

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."

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soundoff (372 Responses)
  1. ToneBro

    It is unfortunate for what happened to this young man. From reading through the threads, this is what I gather: Mr. Champion was a clarinet player and former section leader of the Clarinet section (don't know their group name). More than likely to be section of that group, he had to have done something to be a part of it. This year (his 6th year in the band), he made Drum Major (one of six there). Being a first year drum major, regardless of your tenure in the band, you are subject to again becoming part of another elite group in the band, probably the most elite group. Drum majors usually are not hazed as they are the ultimate leaders of the band under the band directors. They may haze, but it is rare that they get hazed, unless the drum major makes a bad mistake. Mistakes will happen, but mistakes are not too easily forgiven maybe in the FAMU band. The band is a great band and drives off of excellence. As a drum major, Mr. Champion dropped his baton during the half-time show. This was a major issue and a big "No No"! A drum major should show perfection, well above all others. His mistake caused him to have to earn his respect by "Crossing Bus C", the percussion bus, a bus that he would not normally go on. Bus C was probably the toughest bus to earn respect on (drummers are usually your more athletic members of the band). There had to be other drum majors involved as he brought shame to their elite group. He had to know (being there 6 years) that Bus C was traditionally the toughest bus to encounter. He wanted his respect and took his chances (not realizing that the end result would be death) in earning it back by going to the rear of Bus C and attempting to take the hazing (beatings/punching/kicking) that went along going from the rear to the front of the bus. Point is that if Bus C is percussion and he was in the drum major group, the most elite group in the band, then members of both of those groups are your prime suspects. It's unfortunate that this young man had to endure such, but he had to willingly get on that bus and try to earn his respect back. I am in no way condoning hazing or what happened to this young man, but I am here to enlighten you on some of the culture that may be there in the band. Most of you won't understand if you have never played in a college band (especially percussion sections). As a drum major, your respect from your peers is everything. Otherwise, without it, you are just laughed at and ridiculed. This will result in no one taking you serious and you not being able to command order. Band is a lighter form of the Military.

    December 1, 2011 at 5:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • Joev

      Two things that are sorely lacking in this wold is mercy and forgiveness. What if his fellow students had forgiven this young man and shown mercy on that bus? That would be a real tradition to build on and would have demonstrated strength of character. Instead, how many lives are going to be ruined? Maybe we should all carry that message to work and school.

      December 1, 2011 at 5:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • ToneBro

      @JoeV: That is easily said. But to understand the culture of these types of bands (and others alike), you really have to have been in one or to have been around one. It is unfortunate that the young man suffered death. That is no way to die. However, he knew that "Crossing Bus C" was probably the roughest of them all, especially after such a mistake during a halftime show. He knew that he had to re-earn the respect of his peers. "Crossing Bus C" seemed to be the solution. I don't know too many people at the age of 26 who are still in the band or even those in the band for 6 years and considered a Junior. That does not matter though. Such traditions take the fun out of being a part of an elite organization. A gang type beating is not what I went to college for or for what I played in the band to receive. It's not what I expected or experienced in pledging a fraternity. I can say that the bond that I have with my fellow band members, fraternal brothers and sisters, as well as my fellow classmates during college are for a lifetime. Anyways, back then, I did not take any stuff off anyone either. So, that could have played a part.

      December 1, 2011 at 5:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • humberto

      both joev and cnn suck

      December 1, 2011 at 5:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • jed

      I've been in college bands and have seen some hazing. The culture of this band is down right ignorant. If dropping a baton gets you beaten then the band should be disbanded. Your post only shows that you and the band think that your so called 'culture' is above a human life. Sorry.. that's not culture.. it's a mob...

      December 1, 2011 at 6:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • colonelssportsfan13

      Sounds like you are condoning this behavior. There is nothing that can possibly excuse this behavior. The new slogan apparently its all fun and games until somebody gets killed. Anyone who tries to justify or explain this has never experienced anything like this or hazing. Its just cruel and has the opposite effect in what their trying to accomplish. A team is supposed to create unity and comroderie, not resentment and hostility and fear.

      December 1, 2011 at 6:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • ToneBro

      Don't get me wrong. I have never played in the FAMU band. However, if you read my other posts, you will see that I played in a band and had a great experience. I do not condone beatings of any kind of hazing that will lead to injury. My experience was never to be beaten or to beat anyone. Exercises and maybe some fun ridicule, yes. So, you are wrong. I do not condone this. I think that the way this was carried out was brutal and they should be punished. However, I was seeking to put together a picture that all can read and see what was potentially going on. I may be all wrong with the facts there that were gathered from these and other posts, but I am pretty sure that all is somewhat on base with what happened. I came through the college bands over 20 years ago and did not endure anything near what has happened or happens at FAMU.

      December 1, 2011 at 6:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • Susie

      Sounds like each member of Crossing Bus C should give reason why they should not be expelled. If the hazing is as engrained in the culture as you propose, perhaps the whole band should just be disbanded. It's just a marching band. It's not more important that people's lives.

      December 1, 2011 at 8:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • Portland tonyi

      @tonebro.....In the military or in sports , you don't beat up or assault someone because they don't have the talent to be on the starting team. You bench em!

      December 1, 2011 at 9:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ama

      ToneBro, and all of those involved, i'm so so disappointed that you would draw together bits and pieces and develop a synopsis of what happened ... from other news stories ... which have been reporting rumors. And, you admittedly never marched in the Marching 100 at FAMU. I didn't either, however I am very very close to members who do, current and past, as a recent FAMU alumni. Your details about 'Bus C' are inaccurate, but that which i've seen reported is as well. Regurgitation of rumor, passed on as facts.

      The entire nation 'KNOWS' what happened to Robert. Everyone is a subject-matter expert. EVERYONE has a story and details....besides members of the Marching 100. Everyone is talking BUT the current band members and alumni. I am very disturbed and sad about what happened to Robert, whatever the real reason may be. But the autopsy was not yet released. And i'm not denying that hazing exists in the Marching 100, as within other bands. I just totally disagree with the continuation of rumors being reported as official news, and the provocation of empty opinions.

      I am sorry, too, about Dr. White and the loss of his position. I personally experienced his efforts to stop hazing. I would love for the nation as a whole to stfu and listen. But ppl dnt do that. A 'current event' and excitement and confusion therein goes further than patience or fact any day. Perhaps that's human nature.

      Whatever the conclusion of this all turns out to be, this will bring TREMENDOUS change to FAMU, and band-culture as a whole. iPray hazing stops....this happened to Robert, but it could have happened to anyone's child, at any school, at anytime in the last 30+ years. 🙁 iBelieve that Robert's stature as drum major will shed the national attention needed to shift this culture as a whole.

      December 1, 2011 at 9:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • ToneBro

      Ama,
      If you read articles quoting Dr. White and the Champion Family's attorney, both have elated to hazing. Dr. White even came out to say that Mr. Champion suffered at the hands of a group beating on the bus. Check the NY Times. Hazing is wrong, and this is a sad situation. But to let you know, I have good experience in a band similar to FAMU and is familiar enough with enough bands and people in them to know what goes on. FAMU band is standing behind some secretive info that the police need to have in hand, if not yet already.

      December 3, 2011 at 11:19 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Slick

    Certainly condolences to the family and friends, but don't understand why a 26 year old man would allow himself to be hazed/beaten. i belong to a college fraternity and have gone through "hell week" and even at the age of 18 I would never allow anybody to beat me, period, We need to help our kids understand that there are limits that people are allowed to push us. Yes I read the story that this man (not boy) always wanted to be a drum major and thought that he "had" to endure this kind of punishment to be accepted. It has resulted in an innocent man's death and should be prosecuted to the extent of the law, and a lesson we can teach our kids on how far people are allowed to go, friend or foe. sigh 🙁

    December 1, 2011 at 5:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • humberto

      There is more, but the site administrator wants to block and deceive

      December 1, 2011 at 5:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • Susie

      If it were my family or friend who was hazed to death, I would tell you exactly where you can shove your so-called "condolences."

      December 1, 2011 at 8:40 pm | Report abuse |
  3. ThetaOne

    @CT: Look up the word COMPASSION!

    December 1, 2011 at 5:19 pm | Report abuse |
  4. AaronT3

    Why in the heck are the kids being dismissed from school for something that was an adult controlled, promoted, and tolerated environment? These cowardly ADULTS want to blame the kids they groomed to this behavior for the death of this band member is FREAKING UNBELIEVABLE!!!!!!!!!! Every staff member at that school should be held accountable for letting this behavior flourish because THEY ALL turned a blind eye. Seems like blaming our youth for the actions or inaction in this case of the adults is the way of the future. Adults screwed up the education system, environment, and economy and going to want the our youth to work 80 hours a week to generate enough tax base to keep this country afloat. FREAKING OUTRAGEOUS!!!!

    December 1, 2011 at 5:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • lesson 1

      Aaron...are you kidding me? Everyone in college is 18 and above. These kids as you call them are men and women and would probably be upset to be called kids. They know right from wrong and should suffer consequences. Yes, he administration is guilty also.

      December 1, 2011 at 6:44 pm | Report abuse |
  5. andy p

    ru kidding me people need to grow up this isent dazed and confused.. but if they keep it up they will be dazed and confuses. promiss! not a threat!

    December 1, 2011 at 5:28 pm | Report abuse |
  6. kristin

    Ban all fraternities and sororities that have or had a practice of hazing for initiation. Additionally – the school itself did what they could do as they are not the justice system. Its up to the prosecutor to charge the tards that did this, and hopefully the "kids" will be punished to the fullest extent of the law.

    December 1, 2011 at 5:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • Petey

      Yeah, because kids have a history of abiding by the rules of a ban.

      December 1, 2011 at 6:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • lesson 1

      High 5 ^

      December 1, 2011 at 6:45 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Ajmcgill

    A drum major died because he was allegedly beaten to death by other band members. I don't understand why those responsible are not in jail. Beating a man to death is legally and morally reprehensible. It makes no difference whether you call it murder or hazing, the result is the same.

    December 1, 2011 at 5:33 pm | Report abuse |
  8. ToneBro

    This story earlier in the week surfaced on Tom Joyner's show. It had a lot of people mad because Tom Joyner brought up the band fraternity and hazing not blaming them but in the same conversation. So many of his listeners thought that he implicated the band fraternity in the hazing death. However, most were mad with some words that he said of the fraternity, I think in which he later apologized for. I think another article indicated verbage from the family's attorney that the fraternity was in no way involved. Tom received much flack from so many band members around the nation, even with some writing letters to his sponsors, and causing havoc. It is unfortunate that this incident has brought to the light "the life in college." Hazing needs to be taught in high school so that kids are aware of what aspects they may see in college (or even high school). There need to be national campaigns that hit every college campus regarding hazing. Participate or do it, and you are expelled and/or jailed. Most all schools have hazing policies in effect for their students. It is up to one being hazed to report it. Otherwise, it goes hidden as expected by most.

    December 1, 2011 at 5:44 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Big D

    my heart goes out to the Marching 100 Band members. This is not the time to forget all that u have learned and built inside of ur band. Dont let this one back slide over shawdow all that u have worked toward and accomplished. This is the time to stick together and truely bond as a band. Let this incident atler that which must be alter but not forgotten

    December 1, 2011 at 5:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • lesson 1

      Now is time to stop looking the other way.

      December 1, 2011 at 6:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • Former band geek

      This is the time where they should ALL think about what they could have done to stop this young mans death and share in the responsibility of it. They deserve the shame that has been brought upon them. These are ADULTS, not children.

      December 2, 2011 at 8:57 am | Report abuse |
  10. Petey

    This one time..at band camp...I went in to renal failure for having my a$$ beat with a paddle and ended up at the hospital.

    December 1, 2011 at 6:02 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Darkwolf

    What can you say ? The Wiggers can be just as bad, as far as Frat Hazing goes... but in a Band ?? That's just weird. I suppose it's a Cultural thing (Blacks being "proud" of their Music, and all...). But their kicking (as it appears) their Drum Major to death ?!?!? Utterly Barbaric.

    Every Marching Band I've ever been in has prided itself in its Deportment on the Field. "Sharp", "Smart"... There are all kinds of words to describe a well-disciplined Band on the Field. One HAS to believe (for the sake of the Show) that everyone has come to that Field to watch the Halftime show... that the Football game is the Sideshow to the Band's Performance.

    There is an "eclat" that any serious Marching Band strives for... it kinda makes up for the physical size that we band-geeks may lack. The FAMU Band knows this.

    Yes. We tended to be a bit haughty . (LOL... even Clarinetists can get a bit full of themselves, in the Moment.) A big part of our "esprit d' Corps" was our Solidarity. Basically, the sense of Teamwork that any Military Training tries to Instill.
    (FYI... I picked up the Clarinet because it was my Grandfather's Instrument. I'll bet he was pretty Good at it... even in WWI, being chosen as a Bandsman was a sort of Honor. And, since he was being trained (supposedly) in Sousa's Band, I was really proud of him; and took his pronouncements as strict in charge, even as a Toddler...). He was 6'4", and taught Bayonet Drills as a Sergeant in WWI. After the War, he Drum-Majored the Indy 500 Parade for 20 years.
    I imagine he was a very commanding Character.

    THAT'S what it takes to make a Bandsman. Proficiency on your Instrument... Camaraderie with your Mates... and the Unit Pride that is embarked on the Eternal Quest for a Good Time (in the off hours).

    Hazing someone to death is, simply, Criminally Irresponsible. The Students were certainly wrong in their actions... but the Administration CAN'T be wholly innocent. They MUST'VE known that stuff like this was going on. Probably for Generations. That it's EVER happened is sad... that such behavior has continued until today is simply irresponsible.

    Education is meant to bring out the BEST in People. When it brings out the WORST, there's something inherently wrong in that System.

    A very sad Story that, Hopefully, will change things .

    December 1, 2011 at 6:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • lesson 1

      Dsrkwolf, I totally agree. My take on it that the band director had been hazed a member decades ago. He knew what was happening. He should be fired.

      December 1, 2011 at 6:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • Portland tonyi

      I too agree. An excellent post. The band leader may not be totally culpable. From what I've read, he has certainly tried to end the dubious culture that existed in the band, but didn't get more than lip service from his bosses. Regardless, these men and women in the band were not being prepared for life after college. Which only says that FAMU needs to revaluate their mission in the educational field!

      December 1, 2011 at 9:20 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Portland tonyi

    BEST BLOG I'VE BEEN INVOLVED WITH IN QUITE AWHILE. I'VE LEARNED SO MUCH. ESPECIALLY FROM THE POSTS OF THE FAMU STUDENTS AND ALUMS. BOY WAS I OFF BASE.

    December 1, 2011 at 9:48 pm | Report abuse |
  13. ToneBro

    An overhaul is needed at all of today's colleges and universities. When a kid gets out of high school and are on their own, they are subject to try to find their way in life, their social life. In college they have the advantage of getting an education along with it. However, the hazing whether it be in the band or from some fraternity or sorority has long been a big problem at almost every college or university in the nation. It's not just in the movies. This is where the government really needs to step in and look at requiring programs in every high school and every college/university regarding hazing. Young kids are subject to be tempted to be like their role model, whether that role model is there on campus or elsewhere. Many parents pledged in college, were hazed, and then look forward to their son or daughter carrying on their legacy. They know already that hazing is a possibility. Hazing 101 should be required before you get out of high school (Bullying) and upon entering college. Those found guilty of hazing should be reported to the authorities and be prosecuted. Point Blank. No ifs, ands, or buts. Pay in mind that many of your lawyers, judges, doctors, coaches, CEOs and all were probably in some type of fraternity or sorority. But until collectively the nation and the government take a stance on it all, then it will always be prevalent as an underground activity. We have to teach our kids that if they have to be beaten or hurt in order to become a part of, then it is not worth it.

    December 1, 2011 at 10:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • Portland tonyi

      ROGER THAT....signing off from Portland!

      December 1, 2011 at 10:37 pm | Report abuse |
  14. hope

    What concerns me is the that there haven't been any arrests. Robert died from a beating. Calling it a hazing and treating it like its a problem that should be addressed through expulsion is appauling. Leaving the university in charge of policing itself and relying on them to investigate this incident is buying into a tier system that keeps practices like hazing alive. The faculty, the students and alumni are not members of their own private society, nor are they exempt from the laws that govern us. Over and over we see many cases where laws are ignored in an effort to keep university problems hidden on campus, shaded from the media and secured from prosecution... all to protect an image.

    December 2, 2011 at 3:35 am | Report abuse |
    • Portland tonyi

      There probably won't be a any criminal arrests until the cause of death is determined!

      December 2, 2011 at 8:44 am | Report abuse |
  15. VoiceofTruth

    The entire band should be disbanded for a minimum of 4 years. All paid band staff should be terminated and their teaching credentials revoked. What type of next generation are we preparing? Allowing this type of behavior to occur is why our country is in a moral crisis, which ultimately will lead to economic failure and America's demise.

    December 2, 2011 at 9:39 am | Report abuse |
    • VoiceofTruth

      Of course, any other university staff with knowledge of this type of behavior going on and took no action should also lose their jobs.

      December 2, 2011 at 9:42 am | Report abuse |
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