The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

May 1, 2012

Charges coming in Fla. hazing death


From The Associated Press

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — At least five people will face charges in the hazing death of a Florida A&M University band member aboard a bus after a performance in Orlando last fall, authorities said Tuesday.

Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings told The Associated Press that multiple defendants will be charged in 26-year-old Robert Champion’s November, 2011 death, although he refused to say what the charges are.

At least five defendants face a wide range of misdemeanor and felony charges, said Danielle Tavernier, a spokeswoman for the State Attorney’s Office in Orlando. She refused to name the charges pending an announcement by prosecutors on Wednesday.

No arrests had been made by Tuesday afternoon. Both Demings and Tavernier said the arrests would likely take place in multiple jurisdictions.

Detectives say Champion suffered blunt trauma blows and that he died from shock caused by severe bleeding after he was hazed by other band members on a bus parked outside an Orlando hotel. Hazing that involves bodily harm is a third-degree felony in Florida.

In a civil lawsuit, Champion’s family alleged that the bus driver stood guard outside the bus while the hazing took place.

Witnesses in the Champion case have told his parents he might have been targeted because he opposed the culture of hazing they say has long existed in the band, the parents’ attorney has said. It has also been suggested to them that he was targeted because Champion was gay and a candidate for chief drum major.

In a January interview with the AP, Champion’s parents dismissed the notion that his sexual orientation brought on this incident, which was to their knowledge the first time he’d ever been hazed.

“The main reason that we heard is because he was against hazing, and he was totally against it,” Champion’s father, Robert Champion Sr. said in an interview.

Champion’s parents have sued the company that owns the bus where the hazing took place.

Since Champion’s death, FAMU and other schools have been under intense scrutiny about how they handle complaints of hazing.

FAMU suspended the band and launched a task force to recommend steps it could take to curtail hazing, the subject of complaints involving the university band for years.

Three FAMU band members were arrested in the Oct. 31 beating of a female band member whose thigh broken.

On Tuesday, a lawyer for two FAMU music professors who allegedly were present during the unrelated hazing of band fraternity pledges in early 2010 said they have been forced out.

Both faculty members had been placed on paid administrative leave in late March after a Tallahassee Police Department report quoted witnesses as saying they were on hand when the hazing occurred at the home of one of the professors then.

Diron Holloway, the band’s director of saxophones, and Anthony Simons, an assistant professor of music, resigned last week after receiving notices that they had 10 days to contest their impending dismissals, said attorney Mutaqee Akbar.

“They both decided to resign from the university and pursue other career opportunities,” Akbar said.