Florida A&M Band Suspended After Hazing Related Death?
Florida A&M University says the death of a student in the university’s famous marching band was linked to hazing and suspended all performances amid an investigation, CNN reported Tuesday.
The announcement came three days after Robert Champion, a 26-year-old drum major, died on Saturday night following a game.
A spokeswoman for the Orange County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement posted on the University’s website that “after the game, the band returned to the Rosen Plaza Hotel and the victim reportedly threw up in the parking lot and started complaining of not being able to breathe.”
At the time, investigators had said there was no reason to suspect foul play.
Florida A&M president James Ammons announced Tuesday that all activities relating to the band would be suspended, until at least the investigation is concluded.
Ammons said an independent task force would be created to look at the “unauthorized and questionable” actions of the 375-person band, the Orlando Sentinel reported.
According to the Sentinel, hazing is nothing new with the storied band.
FAMU Band Director Julian White told the newspaper that he has dismissed more than two dozen band members because of possible hazing incidents recently.
It was not clear if he knew exactly what had happened in Champion’s death.
But he said in a statement that Champion had a bright future.
“He was a very fine drum major who was of excellent character and very trustworthy. I had not told him yet, but he was slated to be the head drum major next year.”
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Law enforcement officials confirmed Tuesday they are investigating hazing as a factor in the death of Florida A&M drum major Robert Champion — a revelation that came hours after the university’s president pledged to take a hard look at the pernicious practice that has plagued the famed Marching 100 band for decades.
FAMU Police Chief Calvin Ross said his agency is investigating at least two other possible hazing incidents from this semester. Band director Julian White confirmed that 30 band members recently were suspended in the wake of the allegations and did not perform Saturday. No details were provided because the incidents are still under investigation, officials said.
“Hazing is illegal and it is something that should not happen,”
“Hazing is illegal and it is something that should not happen,” said Ammons, who as provost in 1998 dealt with other high-profile hazings involving band members. “I am very disappointed that … in 2011 we are dealing with an issue that should be long since past.”
A 2005 state law made hazing that causes serious bodily injury a felony, regardless of whether the victim consents.
Late Tuesday, Orange County Sheriff Jerry L. Demings announced hazing as a possible factor in Champion’s death. Investigators from his office in Orlando were in Tallahassee, continuing to conduct interviews and determine what happened to the 26-year-old.
Initially, investigators said they found no sign of foul play. But after a flurry of rumors that Champion might have been hazed as part of a band ritual called “crossing Bus C,” OCSO officials began further scrutinizing the incident. Spokeswoman Ginette Rodriguez said results of an autopsy performed Monday were inconclusive, and more medical tests will be conducted.
“We don’t have all of the facts at this time — but we’re going to get them,” Ammons said. “I ask all to refrain from engaging in rumor and to cooperate fully with the investigation into this tragedy.
“There will be no retaliation for anyone who fully cooperates with this investigation, but there will be consequences for anyone who tries to impede it.”
Band members continued to be tight-lipped about what happened and about the prevalence of violence in band initiations. Former band director William P. Foster, who retired in 1998 after more than 50 years leading the Marching 100, had said hazing was a problem starting in the 1950s, when it began as a spill over from fraternity and sorority initiations.
The problem has persisted. In 2004, the victim of a 2001 band hazing incident was awarded a $1.8 million civil judgment for the beating he took as a freshman trumpet player. Marcus Parker was beaten so hard by five band members with a paddle board during an initiation, he suffered kidney failure.
Ammons said anyone found to have threatened the safety and welfare of any student would face “serious disciplinary action.”