© 2023 KENW
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

13 People Charged In Florida A&M Hazing Death


Florida prosecutors filed charges against 13 people today in the hazing death of a university band drum major. Robert Champion was 26 and a part of the marching band at Florida A&M, a historically black college. This is the most serious of several band hazing cases at the university that have resulted in charges in the past year.

Florida Public Radio's Lynn Hatter reports.

LYNN HATTER, BYLINE: Six months after FAMU band drum major Robert Champion died, state attorney Lawson Lamar has filed charges against fellow band members implicated in his death.

LAWSON LAMAR: After working closely with my homicide team, we're ready to announce the filing of charges against 13 individuals stemming from that tragic incident. The majority of those charges are hazing resulting in death.

HATTER: Hazing that results in a death is a third-degree felony in Florida, punishable by up to six years in prison. An autopsy done after Champion's death showed he suffered blunt force trauma to his body that caused internal bleeding and shock.

The 13 people charged face multiple counts, ranging from misdemeanors to felonies. FAMU's Marching 100 Band is one of the best known collegiate marching bands in the country.

Crystal Finley was a member of the band who has now graduated from FAMU. During her time there, she played alongside Robert Champion.

CRYSTAL FINLEY: I didn't have to exert any force with Robert. He wasn't the type of person who didn't cooperate at all. He enjoyed doing what he did best, which was performing in the band. He got joy out of it and that's how our relationship flourished because we was doing what we loved to do most.

HATTER: The hazing incident that cost Champion his life took place on a bus parked outside the Orlando hotel where the band was staying following a football game. Members of the band say the incident was part of a ritual called crossing bus C, a ritual that state attorney Lawson Lamar condemns.

LAMAR: I have come to believe that hazing is a term for bullying. It's bullying with a tradition, a tradition that we cannot bear in America.

HATTER: The Marching 100 Band was suspended shortly after Champion's death and its band director placed on administrative leave. Band alumni Javon Evans(ph) says watching the situation play out in the media is hard, but he, like many others, want the case to run its full course.

JAVON EVANS: I didn't expect it to be this large at all. I mean, 13 is a pretty high number when you think about it, but they're saying - but they're thinking that there's a possibility there could be more. It lets you know that there's a lot more going on out there with this hazing case, but the people that did this needs to be brought to justice and it seems like that's slowly but surely happening.

HATTER: Law enforcement officials say they aren't releasing any names of those charged until they have been taken into custody. For NPR News, I'm Lynn Hatter in Tallahassee. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lynn Hatter is a Florida A&M University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Lynn has served as reporter/producer for WFSU since 2007 with education and health care issues as her key coverage areas. She is an award-winning member of the Capital Press Corps and has participated in the NPR Kaiser Health News Reporting Partnership and NPR Education Initiative. When she’s not working, Lynn spends her time watching sci-fi and action movies, writing her own books, going on long walks through the woods, traveling and exploring antique stores. Follow Lynn Hatter on Twitter: @HatterLynn.