Florida college band suspended indefinitely over hazing death

Reuters News
Posted: May 14, 2012 4:44 PM
Florida college band suspended indefinitely over hazing death

By Barbara Liston

ORLANDO, Florida (Reuters) - Florida A&M University has suspended its celebrated marching band indefinitely as it grapples with the beating death of a drum major and an ongoing probe into the band's culture of violent hazing.

"I have decided the suspension of the band will continue through the 2012-13 academic year," James Ammons, president of Florida A&M in Tallahassee, told university trustees in a conference call on Monday.

The band has been on suspension since the November 2011 hazing death of 26-year-old drum major Robert Champion during a road trip to Orlando.

"I was heavily influenced by the need to be respectful of Robert Champion's family as well as other alleged victims," Ammons said to the board, in explaining his decision to sideline the band for the foreseeable future.

Ammons said the band won't return to the field until a new organizational structure and guidelines are implemented to ensure that an incident like Champion's death never happens again.

Thirteen people have been arrested as part of a continuing investigation into the incident. Eleven of the defendants have been charged with a third-degree felony for "hazing with death," which is punishable under Florida law with a maximum of six years in prison. Two others face a misdemeanor charge.

Champion's death, which was ruled a homicide by the medical examiner, pulled back the curtain on the band's long history of physically abusive hazing.

The victim's mother, Pam Champion, has called for the dissolution of the band "to clean the filth out" and objected to the fact that harsher charges have not been filed.

The Champion family welcomed the decision to continue the band's suspension.

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"There were certainly concerns by the family about the safety of students were that band to march this season," Champion's family lawyer Chris Chestnut told Reuters.

The FAMU "Marching 100," made up of approximately 460 musicians, is famous for its high-stepping showmanship. The band is credited with the widespread transformation of college bands from the traditional military precision style to more innovative pageantry.

In recent weeks, two music professors resigned after allegations in a Tallahassee police report that they were present at a band party in which band students were hazed.

Band director Julian White, who joined the faculty in 1971, resigned last week.

(Editing by Tom Brown and Eric Beech)