Seven of the 13 Florida A&M University band members charged yesterday for the hazing death of drum major Robert Champion turned themselves in to authorities Thursday.
The suspects include Bryan Jones, 23, of Parrish, Fla., who was arrested on felony hazing charges in Hillsborough County and released after posting $15,000 bond, according to a WKMG News report. Jesse Baskin 20, and Benjamin McNamee, 21, were also arrested and taken to the Miami-Dade County jail. In addition, Shawn Turner, 26, was arrested in Gadsen County, and Harold Finley, 20, was arrested in Hillsborough County. All have been charged with one count of felony hazing. Baskin, McNamee and Turner posted $15,000 bond, reports said.
Of the two people arrested Wednesday, Caleb Jackson, 23, charged with hazing resulting in death, remains incarcerated in the Leon County jail, according to reports. Another band member, Rikki Wills, 24, was arrested but made bail, according to reports. Bond for both had been sent at $15,000.
In the case that has put a spotlight on college hazing rituals, Champion, an Atlanta native, died in November after being beaten on a bus following the Marching 100 band performance at the Florida Classic football game in Orlando, Fla.
Now, nearly six months after that incident, 11 suspects face a hazing-resulting-in-death charge, which is a third-degree felony. The other two face hazing charges, a first-degree misdemeanor, according to documents released Wednesday by the Florida state attorney's office. The charge for hazing resulting in death carries a sentence of up to six years in prison for those found guilty who do not have previous records, State Attorney Lawson Lamar said during a press conference Wednesday in Orlando.
That reality may hold sobering significance for Jackson, who has had previous brushes with the law, with at least six charges from events in 2009 and 2010 in Tallahassee. He was charged by the Tallahassee Community College police with aggravated battery with the threat to do violence and with trespassing on school property following an incident in September 2009. FAMU police charged him with disorderly conduct following a January 2010 incident. And Tallahassee police charged him with domestic violence following an incident in September 2010.
Officials at FAMU would not say how they would handle the students who have been charged in the hazing death that has focused a national spotlight on the college, often recognized for its business, journalism and engineering programs. "Upon administrative and legal review of any and all official law-enforcement documents publicly released or shared, Florida A&M University will initiate proceedings against those involved as appropriate and to the fullest extent lawfully possible," wrote Avery McKnight, vice president for legal affairs and general counsel, in an email to The Root.
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.