FAMU Eyes Reforms in the Wake of Hazing Death

Along with the nation, and the communities of Northern Florida in particular, our Panama City wrongful death lawyer was shocked to learn of the hazing death of Robert Champion last fall. The 26-year-old died on November 19, 2011 following a hazing ritual involving Florida A&M University's Marching 100 band. Reports indicate that Champion was brutally beaten by band members as he walked from the front to the back of the band's bus as part of an initiation ritual.

Homicide charges were filed after an autopsy revealed that Champion died due to internal bleeding caused by blunt force trauma. Another band member who went through the ritual reported that he was punched, kicked, and beaten, including being hit with drumsticks.

This week, WJGH is reporting on FAMU's continued attempt to institute reforms in the wake of Champion's death. FAMU leaders, including President Dr. James Ammons, have recognized that the effort means cracking down on a decades-long culture of hazing in the band, a clandestine world that thrived on secrecy. Part of the plan involves hiring two new officers, a Special Assistant focused on anti-hazing efforts and a Music Compliance Officer who will ensure band members are properly enrolled and maintaining a minimum grade point average.

The combined annual cost of those positions is estimated to be $196,000. An additional $806,000 is slated to be spent helping FAMU improve its public image in the wake of the hazing scandal. The school has seen a drop in enrollment since the hazing death became headline news. Further funds totaling $139,000 have been requested to fund the hiring of three people for the Student Judicial Affairs office. A final vote on the proposed anti-hazing plan is expected shortly.

FAMU also faces significant legal costs in the wake of Champion's death. $60,000 has been requested to cover outside legal counsel who will defend the school in hazing-related suits. Additional costs, in amounts that could be significantly greater than those mentioned by FAMU thus far, will likely result from the federal and state lawsuits that are expected to be filed by Champion's family.

The FAMU Marching 100 was, prior to the recent events, known as one of the most accomplished collegiate marching bands in the nation. Growing from an original 16 instruments to include 420 members, the band has played at presidential inaugurations, the NFL Super Bowl halftime show, and countless parades worldwide. Many members were inspired to join after seeing performances as children, and truly made participating a major life goal.

It is frightening to realize that underlying the masterful, beautiful performances was a culture of hazing and initiation rituals that allowed a young man to be beaten to death by his peers. It is tragic that it took a death to bring attention to this horrific practice. Hopefully, the attention will bring an end to hazing in the Marching 100 and lead other organizations to reform hazing cultures.

As a Panama City wrongful death law firm, we believe that the legal system can help families move forward from tragedy, both financially and emotionally. The civil and criminal systems are not an "either/or" proposition. Criminal prosecution is important, but it is not the only venue for addressing a wrong. Criminal courts focus on punishing those who violate the law.

In contrast, the civil system is focused on giving voice to victims and helping them recover damages after a loss. We encourage families who have lost a loved one due to the wrongful actions of others to reach out to experienced civil counsel. We cannot turn back the clock and undo the tragedy, but we can help you with the financial repercussions of loss, and we can help ensure your voices are heard.

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