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. JN

    This a tragedy without question: But can getting into a school band be so important that someone would put your life into danger for it? Or that you would allow them? This makes no senseless.

    December 1, 2011 at 2:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • JohnnyFiveAlive

      I totally agree. This makes no senseless

      December 1, 2011 at 3:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • Aaron

      Everyone is different. Being in the band may not be your cup of tea but I do not think you should criticize those who do want to be a part of it. I have know people who have wanted to be an athlete so bad they were taking performance enhancing drugs and I have met people who wanted to be doctors so bad they were taking speed to stay up all night studying. There are a lot of individuals who feel there are things in life worth dying for and while I will not always agree with their stance, I do understand and will never judge them for it.

      December 1, 2011 at 3:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • JN

      Okay, for the record: It makes no sense and is senseless. Better?

      December 1, 2011 at 3:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • JN

      You, Aaron, miss my point. I'm not debating the merit of being in a band–or anything else someone wants to pursue for their personal benefit. I'm questioning the importance of dying for it or placing one's self in a position to die for it. I would argue band, fraternity, sorority, professional, or any other group or civic organization isn't worth my death.

      December 1, 2011 at 3:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jules

      The issue that many students face is that they've been in band for as many as 8 years before they get to the university. Music is their creative outlet. They join the band, often going to a band retreat before the school year begins, and are immediately subject to hazing because their freshman, because their defenseless...sometimes this is subtle, sometimes it is disturbingly overt and violent. I've seen students lives put into jeopardy within the first day of being in the band (drugs droppped into drinks at parties). But some people don't give up band because they REALLY want to be a musician or because they can't handle the peer pressure or because they don't have any other "friends." Sadly, for some, this is the end result. A tragic loss of life that could have been avoided with proper oversight of the band students and a zero tolerance policy around hazing.

      December 1, 2011 at 3:27 pm | Report abuse |
  2. steve

    whoa yeah anyone whos in a fraternity knows that 30 is an insane number to get paddled with one of those things thats pretty insane.

    December 1, 2011 at 2:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • Chris

      Well, it depends on how hard. Some people got paddled harder than others. I was well liked, so they went easy on me...

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

    @Voice

    I can try to explain it to you...but you prolly wont understand. I was in this band 10 years ago. I know EVERYTHING about it. He was a 1st year drum major but 6 year band member. There is no such thing as being "hazed" against your will. If thats the case...it would be called assault. He prolly was a hazer himself and he more than likely did something out of protocol for a drum major...as a result he more than likely submitted to the hazing that followed

    December 1, 2011 at 2:55 pm | Report abuse |
    • Voice

      I am a member of the Greek system at my university, I know all about hazing, I've even put on seminars about it. I do understand the system of hazing. There IS such thing as being hazed against your will, they call it 'tradition' a simple change of a word negates that. In Texas, it IS assault. There are no separate charges for hazing and assault. Even if he was a hazer, that doesn't give people the right TO haze. Also, between 10 years ago and now, EVERYTHING has changed, things like this are getting worse not better. What you know happened then is not the same as what's happening now.

      December 1, 2011 at 3:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • pete

      It doesn't speak well for alumni of this school if they don't even know how to spell "probably" or even form proper sentences.

      December 1, 2011 at 3:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • FamuAlumni

      The point im making is.....if you are 26 and been in an organization for 6 years and you still are allowing people to "haze" you...look in the mirror. This is sad, and his death is tragic, yes. Before he was a drum major he prolly was either a section leader or an upperclassmen hazing incoming band members himself. Did they die...no, but guess what Hazing is illegal. Apparantly he did something was considered a "no-no" with drum majors and he said to himself. "Im going to let them haze me"...it went too far...plain and simple

      December 1, 2011 at 3:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • malibu123

      You're right, I prolly wont understand.

      December 1, 2011 at 3:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • brick

      Its not worse...its the same. The only thing is that it is reported more. And nobody can be hazed that doesn't submit to it. There are not allegations of kidnapping or unlawful confinement so he definely submitted to it. But still its all wrong. I understand trials by fire but this is something else. All misdeeds require prosecution rather legal or internal (FAMU band) but he didn't deserve to die. Not for band. Trust me tho hazing is even worse with Drum and Bugle Cores. Those kids are considered the best musicians in the world and they do not play when it comes to errors. I think this is just an extention of bullying. I think these types of organizations need to do more things that help build character instead of creating monsters. The pressures of being perfect are causing these kids to become violent and its our fault. The fans, sponsors and colleges (who exploit them for money) are also to blame for this kids death. Its music...not science.

      December 1, 2011 at 3:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • brick

      @ pete: please STFU! Who cares about his spelling. Did you get the point? Aight then. God this is a blog not a friggin term paper.

      December 1, 2011 at 3:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • Retired Military in San Antonio

      Voice......I have to agree with Alumni.

      You can't be hazed 'against your will'.

      You can call it "tradition" of anything else to spin it to your point....but hazing REQUIRES submission.....and that submission is a CHOICE. Whether you're pledging a greek-letter organization, some 'secret society' or any other type of social group, you know going in that hazing is part of the cost of business.....and if you want to be a part of that scene, then you make the CHOICE to SUBMIT to the hazing......period.

      I don't see how you can look at it in any other light.

      December 1, 2011 at 3:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • JN

      Yeah, Pete, prolly never misspelled a word in his life, either via ignorance or just carelessness. Pete, he be perfect at all times.

      December 1, 2011 at 3:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bill H

      It's still assault even when the victim agrees to it beforehand. Nobody agrees to be beaten into renal failure or death. Face it, this is murder. If you participated, you're guilty too.

      December 1, 2011 at 3:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • Retired Military in San Antonio

      I was a cop before I went into the Military.....this case is neither an assualt or a battery.....since the victim was a willfull participant.

      Nor is it murder, since there was (arguably) no intent to actually cause death.

      It is, however, a case of ‘Manslaughter’. Depending on how the laws of the state of Florida are written, it’s either Voluntary or Involuntary Manslaughter….you’ll note that the article states (third paragraph) that a death resulting from a hazing is a 3RD degree felony.

      December 1, 2011 at 5:03 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Bill H

    These kids doing this are nothing but murderers. They need to be criminally prosecuted, not just dismissed from school.

    December 1, 2011 at 2:58 pm | Report abuse |
  5. spectre

    lisa, it's hard to be outraged when he submitted to the hazing voluntarily. Otherwise he would have reported it as an assault. What a luddite!

    December 1, 2011 at 3:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • pete

      How do you "submit" to your own beating??

      December 1, 2011 at 3:03 pm | Report abuse |
  6. AJ

    I was on the swim team at an NCAA division 1 school. I didn't know that binge drinking every weekend was considered a prerequisite, and that there would be an all-night hazing involving the heaviest binge drinking I've ever witnessed. I refused to partake and was an outcast the rest of the swim season. I quit after my freshman year. I am now about to graduate from nursing school, and from what I now know about alcohol poisoning, I am truly surprised no one died on my swim team.

    December 1, 2011 at 3:03 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Former Marching 100 member

    At Voice, I am not saying it is HIS FAULT. What I am saying is that i don't think it is Dr. White's or the University's fault. And while a bartender CAN be charged, how often does that happen??? And when it does, it is often when the bartender knows that the patron is too drunk to drive (negligence). However, you are missing the point, these were all adults and they were ALL wrong. While I would never want to be on either end of a call where someone's life has been lost, I think it is ludicrous to say that just because this turned out bad for him that he has NO responsibility in this. Of course he didn't intend to lose his life but HE DID INTEND TO BE HAZED! As adults we make decisions all of the time that don't turn out the way we planned, unfortunately, this just happens to be one of those times. And I do agree that the students involved should be punished as they made an adult decision as well.

    December 1, 2011 at 3:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • lisa

      you need to take responsibility for this as well. as a former evil member of this sick group you damn well know what is going on here you moron. you should be in jail for all the sick things you wierdos do behind closed doors that hurt good people.

      December 1, 2011 at 3:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • pete

      Please help me understand. Why do some of you say that he intended to be hazed or that he was somehow a willing participant in this? How can you possible know this about him??

      December 1, 2011 at 3:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • Josh

      NO ONE WILLINGLY SUBMITS TO BEING HAZED. I don't care what anyone says. Saying that he did intend to be hazed is saying it's his fault. You completely contradicted yourself. The only reason you're saying anything you're saying is because you a product of this hazing system. ADMIT IT or be quiet.

      December 1, 2011 at 3:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • Hello Buddy

      The reason why he knows is because he and I were in this band before........

      December 1, 2011 at 3:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • Voice

      It is the director's fault, although it may be indirectly. He should not let it go on for this long. Why weren't previous hazing incidents reported to the president of the university? If they were he would have stopped all performances A LONG time ago. If the president knew of previous incidents and now this one occurred, he should be fired as well.

      As far as your contradicting statement, how can you say you're not saying it's his fault but he did intend to be hazed? That LITERALLY makes no sense.

      December 1, 2011 at 3:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • Hello Buddy

      lol...He didnt want to die...but he did submit to the hazing. Just like in your frat, when they wanted to be apart of the frat, they wanted to go "over" with their line brothers. If they knew the possible outcome would be death...I think they would think twice...

      December 1, 2011 at 3:16 pm | Report abuse |
  8. abtime

    This young man's death demands the firing of Dr. James H. Ammons. He runs that school and policy begins and ends with him. Passing the responsibility to students who functioned in a culture that he was aware of, for as long as he has been there, must not be allowed. The students and everyone involved in the physical attack should be charged with murder. The Board of Trustees must fire Ammons.

    December 1, 2011 at 3:05 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Jose

    Why can't they have other rituals that don't have to be so violent? I understand the need to feel a bond in any type of fraternity-like organization, but this is just ridiculous. I mean gangs are really no worse when it comes to this kind of stuff.

    December 1, 2011 at 3:05 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Arick

    Whatever happened to eating a gold fish or streaking? Now they beat you until you have renal failure....

    December 1, 2011 at 3:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jose

      Exactly. A kick in the face is no less painful because it is labeled a "tradition".

      December 1, 2011 at 3:17 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Marylyn

    Is it possible to read comments that use correct grammar and spelling???Proof read what you are writing before you submit your opinions people.Very sad and distracting to see how illiterate many of you are.

    December 1, 2011 at 3:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jimbo

      Didn't realize three question marks was correct grammar there miss queen sh!t. Get a life.

      December 1, 2011 at 3:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • Hello Buddy

      ............lkj js;dlkj ;lksadkjlkjdslkf dsafkj kjkdsjflkjdsa better?????

      December 1, 2011 at 3:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • Casting stones

      "Proofread" is one word, not two....

      December 1, 2011 at 3:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sheila

      There should be a space between the three question marks and the word "proof." Also, proofread is one word. Please practice what you preach.

      December 1, 2011 at 3:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • Sheila

      Oh – you also missed the space between sentences in front of "Very." Oh, look! You're right! It is distracting and illiterate.

      December 1, 2011 at 3:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • artrain

      You did not place a space between your question marks and the next sentence, nor your period and "Very".

      December 1, 2011 at 3:18 pm | Report abuse |
    • Hannah

      "Proofread" is one word, and you are missing a comma between "opinions" and "people."

      December 1, 2011 at 3:21 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Jimbo

    These band kids probably have all this built up band dork aggression from thier high school years and take it out on eachother.

    December 1, 2011 at 3:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • Hello Buddy

      sorry...try again

      December 1, 2011 at 3:13 pm | Report abuse |
  13. artrain

    When my grandparents were in college, paddling was just a swat, not really particularly hard. When my grandfather visited one of his frat's chapters at the university I was attending and saw what they were doing for hazing / paddling, he immediately informed the president and advised me against pledging.
    He was ostracized by the frat and was never invited to another function, of any kind. He said the sadistic behavior he observed was beyond what was descent and was several times mote vicious than what he experienced.

    December 1, 2011 at 3:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • Trella

      Thanks for this comment, the added context it supplies. Hazing, to my thinking, need not be violent or dangerous. I was wondering about the disconnect I had with the other commenters. Broad generational changes in what is acceptable hazing seems to be the issue.

      December 1, 2011 at 3:45 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Former Marching 100 member

    At Lisa's dumb a$$, I was in the band 18 years ago. I just know that he made a decision that turned out badly. I do not condone hazing and wish there was a way to alleviate it. I will take absolutely no responsibility for it as I am not a member of Bus C and was not present when this unfortunate incident took place. Lisa, you really need to pray!

    December 1, 2011 at 3:10 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Hello Buddy

    Its easy to say he was a victim....when you know nothing of the specifics

    December 1, 2011 at 3:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • Former Marching 100 member

      Let me tell you what I do know. He was not a percussion player and he was not supposed to be on that bus. He wanted to earn their respect and chose to "Go over" on bus C. It was simply a bad decision gone terribly wrong.

      December 1, 2011 at 3:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • Hello Buddy

      Exactly...and he did something during the game that not only the alumni drum majors noticed but other people in the band noticed and he was a first year drum major and wanted to maintain "respect". HORRIBLE decision.

      December 1, 2011 at 3:18 pm | Report abuse |
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