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. Deb

    Stop acting like animals and focus on your education. You are the future.

    December 1, 2011 at 4:21 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Gene

    This band should be dismantled for 5 years ..... and part of the reorganization should be the outlawing of groups formed in sections of the band. The band director is fighting for his job? ???? The fact he allowed groups to form like "The Screaming Eagles" means he allowed a culture for this type of activity that was going on..... I'm sure it was tough informing the family of the death of the drum major...because he didn't do all that was necessary to avoid this happening. If these students are music majors and complain about the band being dismantled , let them transfer to another music program somewhere else.

    December 1, 2011 at 4:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jennifer

      Totally agree.

      December 1, 2011 at 4:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • DoggSho

      What made you think that the bd "allowed " groups to form? These factions evolved long before this guy was even born, just like hazing; he just inherited a simmering-Volatile beast. Also to those who are calling for a "disbanding" because of hazing, then lets disband all school"s marching bands, football, basketball teams, cheerleader squads, nerd/geek clubs, and of the bona fide fraternity clubs; for, they all require some form of initiation ritual, which is hazing to some degree.

      December 1, 2011 at 5:04 pm | Report abuse |
  3. twirtzy

    Ummmm, it's a little late to hold him accountable for any hazing he took part in. It's meaningless at this point.

    December 1, 2011 at 4:26 pm | Report abuse |
  4. MickJame

    Of course, the family wants to sue the school. Maybe go after the people that did the crime! Idiots...

    December 1, 2011 at 4:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • DeeNYC

      but there's no money doing that.

      December 1, 2011 at 4:30 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Gene

    As I have read more about this, the culture within this band has been condoned by administration as there were charges in other years. ......Time to clean house in the administration as well.

    December 1, 2011 at 4:26 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Mark

    Thank you for getting the facts straight Charles for us – I bet he's learned his lesson. He'll never drop a baton again

    December 1, 2011 at 4:27 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Locke

    Why can't we be friends guys?

    December 1, 2011 at 4:27 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Stew

    If he was being hazed after being there for 6 years then they are acting more like a gang. Meaning, he was perhaps in violation of something and they were punishing him for it. Someone, somewhere has admitted to or have shown knowledge of this incident and it's details. I'm sure it's classified as hazing for a reason. It's probably so common that IF he was in violation of the 'gangs' secret rules and he was willing to allow himself to be hazed (since most would eventually fight back) then that would suggest how common, how serious, and how brain-washed those members are into thinking that hazing is necessary. All shameful.

    December 1, 2011 at 4:28 pm | Report abuse |
  9. YO

    The hazing done by band members it nothing compared to the hazing done by Frats.

    December 1, 2011 at 4:29 pm | Report abuse |
    • BAND IS WORSE

      Thats not true in all cases. It depends on the program.

      December 1, 2011 at 4:40 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Portland tonyi

    CNN: You could put together a comprehensive story from all the first person comments made here!

    December 1, 2011 at 4:32 pm | Report abuse |
  11. YO

    and this one time at band camp....... these guys started hazing me and i was like woah man this is some good haze.

    December 1, 2011 at 4:32 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Big D

    Hazing is a two way street thats wat some people don't realize if this 26 year old man allowed himself to be hazed to the point of death then there's more to this story then we r being informed. lets also not forget that hazing is a very broad subject it can be anything that you wouldn't do or that u feel forced to do. in actuality the fact that bands have practice dress codes is hazing b/c they're being forced to wear and outfit that they may not want to wear. This young man was a drum major one of the highest powers in the band i'm sure this wasn't his first case of hazing and i'm even more sure that he has hazed in his time at famu as well. my prayers go out to his family friend band mates and the entire marching 100 family active and alum. let this be a lesson learned for those years to come. i am sad to hear that doc white was releaved of his duties as band director and wish him the best in his law suit

    December 1, 2011 at 4:34 pm | Report abuse |
    • twirtzy

      Of course it is 2 way street. But that doesn't make it any less criminal. Nor should it excuse a lack of leadership by Dr. White.

      December 1, 2011 at 4:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • Big D

      of course in no way does anything make this action less criminal or excuse the band director from taking in action. but we r assuming that he knew or even had a clue that this was even goin on. these r grown people running these organization they have no need for the band director to be involved in anything to allow sectionals to be formed inside ur band doesn't mean ur allowing hazing, sectionals form unity inside ur section

      December 1, 2011 at 4:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • twirtzy

      Oh, is this the first "public" knowledge of hazing under Dr. White's leadership?

      December 1, 2011 at 4:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • Big D

      i seriously doubt it is but is he the band director for a university music program. or the baby sitters for a large group of grown poeple. is his job to educate the band directors of tomorrow and to tone and enhance the music abiliies of the young people in his program or to investigate the actions of those in his program during the time they r not around him. if we r goin to blam dr. white for this incident then we minus well blame the entire school, and every professor that this young man took a class from.

      December 1, 2011 at 4:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • twirtzy

      Numerous incidents indicate a lack of leadership and control. It usually leads to a dismissal at the top.

      December 1, 2011 at 5:22 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Rosemary

    The school can only kick the kids out the justice system will have to take care of the rest.

    December 1, 2011 at 4:35 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Hello Buddy

    sad times at FAMU

    December 1, 2011 at 4:35 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Shan

    What really disturbs me even more about this story is that TEN YEARS AGO someone almost died from hazing in this band, and the school paid big bucks and so did the perpettrators. How could this have still gone on all these years?

    December 1, 2011 at 4:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • Hello Buddy

      That exactky what the board of trustees is thinking...and thats why they fired the director

      December 1, 2011 at 4:37 pm | Report abuse |
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