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14th Florida A&M band member charged with hazing

Published: Friday, June 1, 2012 11:23 a.m. CDT

ATLANTA (MCT) — A 14th Florida A&M University student is facing hazing charges after being accused of orchestrating the beating of a 21-year-old female percussionist just hours before Robert Champion was fatally injured on the same bus.

Dante Martin, a 25-year-old percussionist from Tampa, Fla., is the latest member of the Marching 100 to be charged with felony or misdemeanor hazing surrounding the Nov. 19 death of Champion, who was originally from Lithonia, Ga.

Danielle Tavernier, a spokeswoman for the State’s Attorney’s Office in Orlando, said Martin’s was originally charged, but somehow his name was left off of official documents.

Eleven of Champion’s band mates are charged with third-degree felony hazing. Martin is one of three students charged with a misdemeanor and could face a year in jail if convicted. He has not been charged directly in Champion’s death, which occurred after FAMU’s football team had played Bethune-Cookman in the Florida Classic.

Investigators say that Champion, who was a drum major, was forced to walk from the front to the back of the bus while other students punched, kicked and struck him with various objects. The medical examiner ruled that Champion died of hemorrhagic shock caused by blunt-force trauma.

New documents released this week included probable-cause affidavits that investigators used to obtain arrest warrants against the 14 suspects, based largely on depositions by students, participants and witnesses to Champion’s beating.

In a 40-minute deposition, Requesta Harden went into graphic detail about her ordeal on the bus before the game, which led to Martin’s charges.

In one of the more candid of the dozens of interviews investigators conducted with band members, Harden, a drummer, said she was originally assigned to Bus C and rode the bus from Tallahassee, Fla., to Orlando.

On the morning of the game, Harden said she was riding on the bus from the hotel to the Citrus Bowl, where the band was scheduled to perform at half-time. She was sitting near the front when Martin approached her and told her to go to the back of the bus and get in the “hot seat,” where band members were covered with a blanket and beaten.

“In the hot seat, they put a blanket over my head and I was, like, in the crash position and then they start beating me,” Harden said. “I couldn’t breathe, so I got up. And then I ran to the front.”

Harden said band members were prohibited from striking her in the head, but estimates that she was slapped, punched and beaten with drumsticks across her back between “200 and 300 times.”

At one point during her interview, Harden pounded on the table to indicate how hard she had been punched.

Harden said after the beating, she got off the bus and tried to put her drum on.

“Then I was feeling dizzy and woozy. … Next thing you know, I blanked out,” Harden said. “I guess I was dehydrated or surprised. I don’t know what it was.”

Harden said she did not march in the game.

“After the game, I rode Bus E,” Harden said, admitting that she was scared to ride Bus C, as she was due to get two more visits to the hot seat before she would have even been allowed to run through the gantlet, as Champion did.

“I went straight to my room and went to sleep,” Harden said.

While she was in her room, Champion, his roommate Keon Hollis, and Lissette Sanchez attempted to “cross over” on Bus C.

Harden, who roomed with Sanchez on the road, said Sanchez came back to the room in tears.

“I didn’t ask what happened, because I knew,” Harden said of Sanchez, who had endured the hot seat.

FAMU officials have suspended all band activities at least through the 2012-13 academic year. Longtime band director Julian White, who had been trying to get his job back after a suspension, retired earlier this month.

The FAMU band is regarded as one of the best in the world, and it has played at presidential inaugurations, at the 200th anniversary of the French Revolution in Paris, and at several Super Bowls, including the 2007 game in Miami, where it accompanied Prince.

The band has special meaning and influence in Atlanta: The band recruits heavily here and several of its alumni direct marching bands of their own at area high schools.

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