The university had suspended four students last fall who were said to have been directly involved in the hazing death of Champion. Those suspensions were rescinded when school officials decided to wait for the outcome of the state’s investigation before taking action on the students’ enrollment status.
FAMU also suspended the Marching 100 band and membership intake into other campus organizations while it grapples with its approach to ending the culture of hazing that has permeated the band and other campus groups. Peter McKay, a 1997 FAMU grad who started the FAMU Hazing Blog, said the band should be suspended for a long time, “but I know I am probably in the minority on that.” Other organizations, McKay said, have been “kicked off campus for less, and no one was killed.”
In 2007 two members of the Kappa Alpha Psi chapter at FAMU were sentenced to prison for beating a pledge so severely that he required medical attention. The fraternity was suspended from campus until 2013, according to reports.
Since the death of Champion, other incidents of hazing in the band have surfaced. Bria Hunter, a FAMU freshman, went to the hospital with injuries from hazing last fall, and arrests were made earlier this year in that case.
Chris Chestnut, an attorney representing the family of Champion, said FAMU officials haven’t listened to the warnings and the pleas to stop hazing on the campus. “The university is supposed to protect and educate its students,” Chestnut said. “They have failed.”
He has filed a notice to sue the university on behalf of the parents. (In Florida a notice must be filed at least six months prior to the action against a public entity, he said.) In addition, Chestnut has filed a lawsuit against the company that provided the bus on which the hazing is said to have taken place.
Champion, who was poised to lead the band next year as head drum major, went through a ritual called “Crossing the C Bus,” witnesses have told investigators. At least 30 people were on the bus that night; several were beaten and one died, Chestnut said.
Champion’s parents are pleased that charges have finally come in the case, but they were hoping for more, according to Chestnut. “They wanted murder charges,” he said. “In their minds, their son has been murdered.”
Denise Stewart is a freelance writer in Alabama.