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. IndyJim

    band geeks who think they are hot crap need to be packaged and sent to the mountains of Afghanistan with their wooden paddles.

    December 1, 2011 at 2:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • Doc

      IndyJim, don't be an idiot. It was a tragedy brought about by poor decisions. Alcohol. For the most part, they're just kids. And frankly, it takes a lot of talent to do what they do. I bet you wouldn't last three days there. No one said anything about thinking they're "hot crap", and what the heck does Afghanistan have to do with this? Try not to show the world what a cast-iron moron you are.

      December 1, 2011 at 2:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • WVU

      AMEN! It is BS that other "people" would do this to one of their own, just CRAZY!!! And dead wrong!!!

      December 1, 2011 at 2:45 pm | Report abuse |
  2. David

    It is just amazing that this sort of conduct still goes on. In 2007 Chad Meredith died in a hazing incident at the University of Miami. The jury in that case returned a $14 million verdict for Chad's parents against the individuals responsible for his death which remains the largest hazing verdict in the country. Shortly thereafter the Florida Legislature passed the "Chad Meredith Act" which makes hazing a 3rd degree felonly in Florida. Chad's parents testified before the committees that reported out the bill and Governor Bush signed the bill into law on the UM campus where Chad died. It was a moving experience for those who were there. Since then efforts have been made to "educate" students each September on the dangers of hazing and the fact that if you haze you can go to jail. While those efforts have helped, they obviously have not been good enough. More needs to be done and the media attention on the consequences of hazing – both to the victim's family and those who perpetrate these acts – needs to continue. Hazing is far more prevalent than most people realize and needs to stop.

    December 1, 2011 at 2:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • jewelgirl

      Yes, the top heads at this university should roll. The President should have been dismissed the day the student died. Zero tolarance...then we will see how many hazings continue. It's tolerated...end of story.

      December 1, 2011 at 2:43 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Tare

    If students have been dismissed then enough facts are known to bring forth charges. What's the delay? And what's with White's notifying the parents? Posturing to keep his job! It is certainly not his job to notify the parents about anything whatsoever, not even grades! His claims about anti-hazing policies are obviously lip service only or else this nonsense wouldn't occur, so firing him was correct. And what's with the paddling! Come on – why not a sharp stick to the eye?

    December 1, 2011 at 2:30 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Debbie

    Hazing? It was murder pure and simple.

    December 1, 2011 at 2:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • Voice

      I don't know why the hazing law in Florida is it's own thing. Hazing is verbal, physical, mental assault. A death because of it is (in)voluntary manslaughter. SIMPLE LOGIC

      Why it's classified as something else is beyond me.

      As a member of a sorority in Texas, if we're caught hazing, we're arrested an charged with assault.

      Florida has a TERRIBLE justice system.

      December 1, 2011 at 2:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • Thinking7

      It sure was. The problem is that FAMU is crime ridden. Florida is crime ridden. It's just a fact, and no one seems to care anymore.

      December 1, 2011 at 2:40 pm | Report abuse |
  5. psd

    All it takes is one person to speak up. Just one. Poor kid... how would you like to send your kid to college and then find out he was hazed to death? A ridiculous practice. You can belong somewhere without proving your mettle. I think the historic black schools are WAY behind the times on this one.

    December 1, 2011 at 2:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • MtMan

      This 'kid' was 26 years old and old enough to know the word 'no'

      December 1, 2011 at 2:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • Get Serioius

      White Boys do this kind of stuff all the time

      December 1, 2011 at 3:32 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Stanford

    Unfortunately this type criminal behavior has become a standard part of college life, accepted by all those involved. They even inflict the damage to themselves – Look at all the black athletes with the “O-Dog” symbol branded on their arms – They have been convinced to do this themselves!

    December 1, 2011 at 2:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • Kappa

      Its the Greek letter "Omega". Otherwise known as "Q-Dogs"....not an "O"

      December 1, 2011 at 3:48 pm | Report abuse |
  7. El Guapo

    Ahhh Florida. Making an ass out of justice like normal.

    December 1, 2011 at 2:33 pm | Report abuse |
  8. scott

    This is a truly sad story. Those involved should pay a terrible price. This was a good and decent young man, doing all the right things, with his whole life ahead of him.

    December 1, 2011 at 2:33 pm | Report abuse |
  9. musings

    How horrible that the descendants of slaves in the American South should use beatings to initiate frat members, as though the "in crowd" has the right to harm that way, and the "outs" must be treated as slaves were. I imagine there was kidney failure or even an allergic skin reaction to the paddling. It is just so sad. I am sure the intent was never to kill or to die, but it was done without regard to the consequences (like frat drinking bouts which sometimes kill).

    December 1, 2011 at 2:34 pm | Report abuse |
  10. excitingman

    jail em all for life

    December 1, 2011 at 2:36 pm | Report abuse |
  11. JoAnn

    The House and Senate need to get involved in hazing. There needs to be a federal law against all hazing. First offense is a felony with 10 years in jail that is mandatory. There is absolutely no excuse for hazing which is a form of bullying which has severe injury and death consequences. I urge everyone to contact their represenative to put an end to this type of inexcusable actions against others. If this was my kid that got killled by hazing, they would have to run and hide the rest of their lives. I would literally make the other students life a living hell.

    December 1, 2011 at 2:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • Voice

      In Texas, hazing is a felony and a person can be charged with assault and manslaughter if the person dies. This is not the case in Florida but we all know how stupid the justice system in Florida is and how strict the Texas system is.

      December 1, 2011 at 2:39 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Solitaire

    When it has any connection to college sports it's "hazing death" but in another context it would be "manslaughter" or "murder".

    December 1, 2011 at 2:37 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Jake

    I thought the whole reason to be a band dork instead of a frat boy was to *avoid* this kind of stuff ?

    December 1, 2011 at 2:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • tally man

      that would be true if this wasn't FAMU... FAMU's football teams sucks... and their band is amazing... so the band dorks in this situation arent dorks at all.

      December 1, 2011 at 3:10 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Mitch

    What do you expect? That school is a hellhole...

    December 1, 2011 at 2:37 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Thinking7

    If you know anything about the students at FAMU, you wouldn't be surprised. Violent and crime ridden. I wouldn't say that they are all that way, but the majority is. The majority of students who earn degrees from FAMU have just received the upper end of the curve because no one would pass if they had to use a proper grading system. Ask any professor, and you will hear it.

    December 1, 2011 at 2:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • tally man

      That was a dumb comment... And learn how to use the word "is"...lol... You must've graduated from the same school you're insulting...lol

      December 1, 2011 at 3:12 pm | Report abuse |
    • Proud FAMU Alum

      @Thinking7, I am a proud FAMU Alum who went onto a top tiered law school and now have a successful legal career. I am not exactly clear about your statement "if you know anything about the students at FAMU" but FAMU has been a legacy in my family for decades. I presently have a cousin at the University who had options to go to other major universities. Please don't generalized that the "majority" are a certain way. It makes you look stupid. This unfortunate incident could have happened anywhere.

      December 1, 2011 at 3:51 pm | Report abuse |
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