Two charged in Robert Champion’s hazing death were not FAMU students
ORLANDO, Fla. (MCT) — At least two of the people charged with felony hazing in connection with the beating death of Florida A&M University drum major Robert Champion last fall should not have been traveling with the band because they were not enrolled in FAMU or one of the nearby schools that would allow participation in the band, according to school records obtained by The Orlando Sentinel.
In addition, nearly 100 others who were allowed to travel with the band may have been ineligible at the time of Champion’s death after the Florida Classic football game in Orlando on Nov. 19.
FAMU’s board of trustees was made aware of these potential violations of school policy Tuesday in documents sent to board members by school President James Ammons and his chief of staff, Rosalind Fuse-Hall.
Christopher Chestnut, a lawyer for Champion’s parents, Pamela and Robert Champion, said Ammons’ revelations underscore the family’s belief that the university lacked procedures to protect band members from hazing.
“There were no rules, no regulations, no supervision,” Chestnut said.
FAMU trustees still do not know why percussionists Caleb Jackson and Brian Jones, both charged with felony hazing in Champion’s death, would have been allowed to participate in the band and be on the parked charter bus where Champion was beaten after the Classic.
To join the band, a musician must be a FAMU student or attend either Tallahassee Community College or Florida State University, as well as be enrolled in a FAMU band course.
Trustees Chairman Solomon Badger said it is unclear why some students who apparently did not meet those criteria were still allowed to perform at the Classic. Band members, he said, are required to show their course schedules to music-department staff before they are issued a uniform.
“The university is, right now, reviewing this situation and ways to ensure the band guidelines are followed in the future,” Badger said.
Chuck Hobbs, an attorney for FAMU’s longtime band director, Julian White, suggested that the problem lies with enrollment verification.
Band students present a copy of their current class schedules at the start of the fall semester indicating their enrollment at FAMU, FSU or Tallahassee Community College in order to receive a uniform, Hobbs said.
“It is not under the auspices of the band staff or the Department of Music to make final determinations as to verification of enrollment,” he said in a prepared statement.
Hobbs also said that when travel per-diem allotments are distributed, “the band staff trusts that the ability to distribute funds disbursed for use by enrolled students have been verified by those with authority to do so.”
Those types of issues, among others, are the focus of a Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigation into financial irregularities at FAMU. Soon after the FDLE started helping with the investigation into Champion’s death, it launched a separate investigation related to band expenses and university travel.
Champion was beaten to death by fellow band members as part of a hazing ritual, authorities say. The Orange-Osceola State Attorney’s Office has charged 11 people with felony hazing — six of whom were on band scholarships, according to FAMU, Florida’s only historically black public university.
Two other band members have been charged with misdemeanor hazing for their alleged roles in the hazing of two other band members on the same bus that evening.
Jackson and Jones were not FAMU students at the time of the Classic, the university said.
Jones, 23, was last enrolled at FAMU in the spring of 2011, according to FAMU. His Orlando attorney, Alisia Adamson, said late Wednesday afternoon that she had not been able to reach Jones to confirm that.
Jackson, 23, and another student charged in Champion’s death, Lasherry Codner, 20, were identified by FAMU as students of Tallahassee Community College.
Codner, however, attended the community college only in the fall of 2009 and the spring of 2010, a community-college spokeswoman told the Sentinel. FAMU officials were uncertain whether Codner was enrolled in a FAMU band course last fall.
Jackson attended the community college only in fall, 2008.
Of the 457 people who were listed on a FAMU roster of band “travelers” at the beginning of the fall 2011 semester, 331 were FAMU students and 25 were employees, according to a letter that Ammons sent trustees.
Forty-nine students from FSU and Tallahassee Community College were in the band but not enrolled in the required FAMU band class.
Fifty-one band members and one of the cheerleaders had been previously enrolled at FAMU but were not enrolled at the time of the Florida Classic, Ammons wrote.
Chestnut, the Champion family lawyer, also was dismayed that Ammons’ correspondence to trustees seemed sympathetic to those arrested. “This is a very difficult time for these young people and their respective families; our hearts and prayers go out to them,” the letter says.
Ammons’ sympathy is misplaced, Chestnut said.
“It (implies) that he’s sorry they got caught,” Chestnut said. “Robert was killed — that’s what we’re sorry about.”
A university official said this week that FAMU students charged with hazing could face expulsion. The school would not provide a timeline, however.
FAMU and others are working to strengthen regulations related to hazing. As FAMU works on its own internal policies, U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Fla., is crafting federal anti-hazing legislation.
Wilson’s legislation would, among other things, penalize everyone who participates in hazing — the people who do the hazing and those who submit to it. Under her proposal, students involved in hazing could lose their federal financial aid.
The band remains suspended indefinitely. But in Ammons’ letter, he indicated that a decision might be made soon on whether to allow the band to perform in the fall.
He said the school’s Internal Crisis Management Team will be speaking during the next two days to faculty, student leaders and others “to hear their input about the conditions for bringing the band back.”
FAMU trustee Torey Alston said the school needs a permanent decision soon.
“It’s clear we had some issues with band travel and finances leading up to the Classic,” said Alston, a former class president at FAMU. “I expect the administration to address these issues thoroughly and tighten band operations. My fear is the longer the administration waits to make a permanent decision on the Marching 100, the more it could harm future scholarships, recruitment, ticket sales and morale within the Rattler community.”