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Entries in Marching Band (11)

Monday
Oct222012

Hazing Death Plea Gets Leniency, But Not from Victim's Mom

Champion Family Photo(TALLAHASSEE, Fla.) -- The first of a dozen defendants charged in the hazing death of Florida A&M University drum major Robert Champion appears to have gotten off easy with the judge Monday, but not with Champion's mother.

Champion, 26, was a member of the college's famed "Marching 100" band when he collapsed and died Nov. 19 on a bus parked outside an Orlando hotel after a football game.

Champion's parents sat steely-eyed and stared straight ahead as the judge explained his reasoning for sentencing Brian Jones, 24, to two years of probation and 200 hours of community service.

Moments earlier, the judge made an exception and allowed Champion's mother Pamela Champion to directly and sternly address Jones. She explained her thought process when deciding what to say to him.

"I thought about expressing the agony and pain that my family has gone through because of you. I thought of expressing the torment I go through each and every day knowing that I will never see Robert because of you," she said. "I even thought of expressing my anger, my disappointment in all the deceitful lies, the corruption, the ruthlessness, the mishandling of my son's murder."

In the end, she said, she decided to pose a series of questions to Jones. She asked him how long he could hide the truth, how he could live with the lie and what punishment he deserved.

"The judge had stated that your part in Robert's death was really minimal, but you and I know that's not true," she said. "It will always be there haunting you. We both know that."

Champion's father Robert Champion also addressed the court, speaking with "a lot of mixed emotions and a heavy heart."

"This is an opportunity that we can take to tell the world that we are not going to accept hazing. It's a thing of the past and it starts now with holding these people responsible for what they did," he said. "It's been going on too long and this is time to make a statement."

Jones' mother expressed her "deepest" and "sincerest" sympathy to the Champion family, but pleaded with the judge to show mercy to her son who told her that he was not involved in Champion's death.

"I've taught Brian to talk to me and tell me the truth," Jacquelin Jones said. "I'm convinced that my son told me the truth."

Jones was the last to tearfully address the court.

"I stand before you today still in shock, but with a sound mind and humble heart," he sniffed. "I just want the world to know that I'm sorry for the death of your son Robert. I truly am. No words or anything I could do would be sufficient enough to express how regretful I am of the loss of Robert."

He said the band's behavior was "completely inexcusable" and that the events of the night "went further than anyone imagined, wanted or thought." Jones said his "heart continues to ache at the thought of what happened."

Jones said he did not know Champion, but had heard of his high character, academic talents and precise marching skills. Through tears, he called Champion a "role model for excellence."

Jones was charged with a third-degree felony. He entered a no-contest plea on Oct. 9 after originally pleading not guilty.

Judge Marc Lubet called the sentencing an "extremely difficult situation" and said he had to look at Jones in terms of a ladder of culpability and prosecutors did not have any evidence that Jones hit or hurt Champion. Lubet quoted Abraham Lincoln before announcing the sentence, saying, "Mercy bears richer fruits than strict justice."

"I could destroy his life right this minute, but, once again, based on all the facts of this case, I think the quote from Abraham Lincoln is very, very pertinent," Lubet said. "I think you're worth saving."

The judge even commended Jones for being the first defendant to come forward and "take some responsibility."

In addition to the probation and community service, Jones was ordered to have no contact with the Champion family unless they were to initiate it and no contact with any of the other defendants.

Thirteen FAMU band members have been charged in relation to Champion's death. Eleven of the band members face felony hazing charges and the other two face misdemeanor hazing charges. The defendants have pleaded not guilty.

In May, over 2,000 pages of evidence from the investigation into Champion's death were released by the Florida District Attorney's Office, which delivered a blow-by-blow of the events from the night of Robert Champion's death.

Champion endured a lethal pummeling down the aisle of a pitch-black bus that rocked from the force of the violence inside, according to the documents.

Champion struggled, with a female band member holding him back to prolong the punishment, through a gauntlet of band mates who used their fists, feet, straps and sticks to pound him into unconsciousness.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Monday
Jan232012

Four FAMU Students Dismissed Following Hazing Arrests

Scott Cunningham/Getty Images(TALLAHASSEE, Fla.) -- Four students have been expelled from Florida A&M University Monday after being arrested and charged with hazing offenses.

The expulsions come two months after drum major Robert Champion died on a school bus following a football game. Police have said they believe hazing contributed to his death.

The four band members expelled in the latest hazing incident were identified as Denise Bailey, 22, Brandon Benson, 23, Hakeem Birch, 21, and Anthony Mingo, 22. They were arrested on Thursday for allegedly attacking five clarinet players as part of a hazing ritual for a group of the school's famed marching band, the "Marching 100."

An arrest report said that "the hazing created a substantial risk of physical injury or death."

Five FAMU students and band members were identified in the arrest report as the victims of the hazing: Elijah Brown, Riva Nance, La'Nesia Smith, Sychiquita Stokes and Shantivia Conley.

The students were pledging to become members of the "Clones," a group within the clarinet section of the band. Three or four initiation meetings had been scheduled for the Clones, beginning around Sept. 1, 2011.

"During the scheduled initiation meetings, the pledges were forced to exercise, play music, and were either punched, prepped (slapped with both hands on back) or paddled," according to the arrest warrant.

After the meeting, the students discussed their experiences and showed each other their injuries. Conley took photos of her bruising and quit the pledge process after the first meeting.

The meetings were coordinated by Bailey or Benson, according to the warrant, and took place at the off-campus home of Birch and Benson.

The FAMU Police Department did not respond to requests for comment.

Last week's arrests were the latest in a hazing scandal that has marred the school and its famous marching band.

Since Champion's death in November, the school has stepped up its efforts to stamp out hazing, which has long been a surreptitious tradition within its band.

Champion, 26, was a member of the college's Marching 100 band when he collapsed and died Nov. 19 on a bus parked outside an Orlando, Fla., hotel after a football game. His death was ruled a homicide, but no charges have been brought.

Four students dismissed by the university in Champion's case were reinstated while authorities continue to investigate.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Friday
Dec162011

FAMU Band Drum Major's Death Ruled Homicide

On the day Robert Champion died, he texted his parents a photograph of himself with a young boy from a children's marching band. (Champion Family Photo)(TALLAHASSEE, Fla.) -- The death of Robert Champion, the Florida A&M drum major who was allegedly hazed in November, has been ruled a homicide, the medical examiner announced Friday.

"Homicide investigators have interviewed the vast majority of the individuals present during this incident. In the coming days and weeks investigators will be working with the State Attorney's Office to identify the charges that are applicable," the Orange County Sheriff's Office said in a statement.

The 26-year-old died Nov. 19 on a bus outside a hotel after the band had performed at a football game in Orlando. Four band members were subsequently dismissed from FAMU in connection with the Champion incident, and then reinstated.

The director of the school's Marching 100 band, Julian White, was fired and then put on administrative leave pending an investigation from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

FDLE is currently investigating the school for potential fraud and misconduct. FDLE has asked the school to suspend any disciplinary or administrative reviews related to the alleged misconduct.

"We're aware of the autopsy results and our investigation is still active," FDLE spokesman Keith Kameg said Friday.

Last week FAMU's board of trustees reprimanded school president James Ammons for the way he dealt with hazing, but students rallied in support of Ammons Thursday night to protest the board's recommendation that Ammons be suspended immediately.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Dec142011

Financial 'Misconduct' Uncovered in Florida A&M Band Hazing Probe

Scott Cunningham/Getty Images(TALLAHASSEE, Fla.) -- A criminal investigation into the alleged hazing death of Florida A&M drum major Robert Champion has prompted authorities to launch a probe of potential fraud and misconduct at the school.

Champion attended Southwest DeKalb High, as did another Florida A&M student, Bria Hunter, who is suing FAMU after she says she was beaten so badly during a band hazing ritual that her thigh bone was broken.

Both Hunter and Champion, who died Nov. 19 in what police believe was a hazing incident, were members of the band's secretive Red Dawg Order. The group is made up of band members from Georgia, primarily from Atlanta, Ga.

Since Champion's death, the school has launched a task force on hazing and took disciplinary action against the marching band director, Julian White.

The school is now coming under fire for "potential violations of criminal law relating to fraud and/or misconduct by employees of and/or persons associated with Florida A&M University (FAMU)," according to a letter from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement sent Tuesday to both the chancellor of the State University System of Florida and the chairman of FAMU's board of trustees.

The letters did not specify the nature of the violations, but did ask the school to suspend any disciplinary or administrative reviews related to the alleged misconduct. FDLE is now initiating a separate criminal investigation.

Solomon Badger, the chair of the school's board of trustees, said in a statement, "We cannot comment on the investigation, as we have no further details at this time. But we are cooperating fully with this and all investigations."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Dec132011

Florida A&M Hazing Victim Sues School

Scott Cunningham/Getty Images(ATLANTA) -- A freshman Florida A&M student who filed hazing charges against three members of the school's marching band is now suing the school, her attorney announced Tuesday.

Bria Shante Hunter, whose thigh bone was broken in the alleged hazing incident, has been harassed since reporting the beating to band director Julian White, her attorney, B.J. Bernstein, said.

"For any person who is subject to hazing, this is a big reason they do not come forward," said Bernstein.

Bernstein also told reporters the freshman is pulling out of the university because of the incident and forfeiting her $82,000 scholarship.

Hunter, 18, was not present at the afternoon news conference in Bernstein's Atlanta law office as she was completing her last exam, the lawyer said.

The three Florida A&M students accused of beating Hunter appeared in court Tuesday. The judge set a bond of $2,500 for James Harris, 22, who is charged with hazing. Bonds of $10,000 were set for Sean Hobson, 23, and Aaron Golson, 19, who are charged with hazing and felony battery. They posted bail and have been released from jail.

The trio are members of a group called the Red Dawg Order, which includes band members from Georgia, mainly Atlanta. The alleged beating victim, freshman clarinetist Bria Hunter, is from Atlanta.

The criminal hazing charges come as Florida A&M and police are investigating the Nov. 19 death of the band's drum major Robert Champion. Police have said that they believe hazing was involved in Champion's death. Champion, 26, was also from Georgia.

Four unidentified students were dismissed for their role in Champion's hazing death, which occured just three weeks after Hunter was beaten. They have since been reinstated.

FAMU initially fired band director Julian White and later placed him on administrative leave pending the results of the Champion investigation. Last week FAMU's board of trustees reprimanded school president James Ammons for the way he dealt with hazing.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Dec132011

Tubas Getting Stolen from California High Schools

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(LOS ANGELES) -- Several Southern California high schools are scrambling to keep their bands marching. But a string of recent break-ins has left several South Los Angeles high school bands without tubas.

In recent weeks, band rooms have been ransacked across Los Angeles in pursuit of the prized brass instruments.

“It’s demoralizing,” South Gate High School band director Ruben Gonzales Jr. told ABC News. “We’ve been working to build our program by getting instruments donated, so to see them gone is a real kick in the gut.”

South Gate High School is one of many schools targeted in recent weeks. Gonzalez said the thieves had their eyes on only one instrument.

“It’s exclusive to the tubas every time; they are the most valued instrument for any band.” Gonzalez said.

South Gate has been the target of two break-ins since September. The school has lost five of its eight tubas, at a value of up to $30,000.

For the time, Gonzalez said the tuba players would rotate the remaining three instruments. The band director has strategized to find ways to replace the instruments, including renting, but the school is struggling to find the money.

“Our budget is stretched thin as is, so we don’t know where to come up with the money to replace it.” He said.

South Gate hasn’t been the only target.  Two miles away at Huntington Park High School, thieves stole the school’s last tuba.  According to The Los Angeles Times, 13 tubas from nearby Fremont High School have also been stolen, as well as eight from Centennial High School.

The band directors said they suspected the stolen tubas were being sold on the black market.  They believe the stolen tubas could be melted down for the high priced brass, but it’s more likely that the high priced instruments are being sold -- there’s been a recent resurgence of tuba-based banda music in Hispanic communities.

“[Tuba players] are paid a lot to play,” Gonzalez said.  “Buying a tuba is almost like buying a used car; people want it but can’t afford it.”

He says a banda performer can stand to make more than $100 an hour.  A tuba on the black market can sell for between $2,000 to more than $5,000 depending on its condition.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Friday
Dec022011

FAMU Band Death: Students May Face Manslaughter Charges

On the day Robert Champion died, he texted his parents a photograph of himself with a young boy from a children's marching band. (Champion Family Photo)(TALLAHASSEE, Fla.) -- Four band members dismissed from Florida A&M University were allegedly involved in hazing drum major Robert Champion before he died and could face manslaughter charges, said a lawyer linked to the case.

In the students' dismissal letter, obtained by ABC News, they are accused of "an act of hazing" on Nov. 19 in Orlando, Fla., the day Champion died on a bus after performing with the school's famed marching band.

The school also charged the students with "conspiracy," defined in the student handbook as "planning with one or more fellow students to commit an act or acts that violate(s) the University Code of Conduct."

The dismissal notice describes the students' alleged offenses as being of "a serious, heinous or repulsive nature." The students have not been identified.

Police have said they believe that Champion's death was related to a hazing incident.

The school's band director Julian White, who was fired after Champion's death, identified the four band members who were allegedly involved in hazing the drum major and were dismissed by the school, his lawyer Charles Hobbs told ABC News Friday.

"If it's later determined by the sheriff's office [that Champion died from hazing], then the individuals could face more serious charges up to and including manslaughter," Hobbs said.

Under Florida law, hazing that results in the serious bodily injury or death of another person is a third degree felony.

"It could be up to five years in prison" if convicted, Hobbs said.

Champion's initial autopsy was inconclusive, and investigators are awaiting the results of further testing.

On Monday FAMU will hold a mandatory forum to discuss "the problem of hazing." Clubs and organizations that fail to attend will be sanctioned, the school announced.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Dec012011

Band Death: Four Students Dismissed After Alleged Hazing

On the day Robert Champion died, he texted his parents a photograph of himself with a young boy from a children's marching band. (Champion Family Photo)(TALLAHASSEE, Fla.) -- Florida A&M University has dismissed four students for their role in the alleged hazing death of FAMU drum major Robert Champion, according to a memo obtained by ABC News. And now a second hazing victim has come forward, telling WFTV she was rushed to the emergency room 11 days before Champion's death.

Champion, a 26-year-old member of Florida A&M's "Marching 100" band, collapsed and died on a bus parked outside an Orlando, Fla., hotel after a football game Nov. 19. The school has fired the band director and suspended all performance and engagements of any bands and ensembles, including the "Marching 100." Champion's family plans to sue the school and possibly the school's recently fired band director Julian White.

In a memo sent Tuesday to the Florida A&M board of trustees, university President James Ammons reported "four students have been dismissed from the university in connection with the Robert Champion incident. Further, 30 students were dismissed from the band prior to the Florida Classic."

The students were not identified.

A second alleged hazing victim, freshman Bria Hunter, told police high-ranking band members began initiating her and several others in September. In November, she woke up and found her leg was numb, she told WFTV.

"I was just scared because, like, that never happened before," Hunter said, adding she was beaten at least three times over the course of the semester.

Tallahassee police are still investigating.

When asked why she participated in the hazing, she told WFTV, "So we can be accepted. If you don't do anything, then it's like, you're lame."

In Ammons' Tuesday memo he reiterated the university's "zero tolerance" anti-hazing policy and mentioned the task force formed last week to evaluate the university's "current anti-hazing regulation, procedures, practices and enforcement mechanisms."

"It needs to stop," Champion's mother Pam told reporters Sunday. "No one wants to hear your son collapsed and died. We want to make sure it doesn't happen again."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Nov242011

Florida A&M Band Director Fired Over Drummer's Death

Scott Cunningham/Getty Images(ORLANDO, Fla.) -- The embattled director of bands at Florida A&M University has been fired after a drummer in the school's Marching 100 died after a suspected hazing incident.

Four days after 26-year-old drum major Robert Champion was found dead on the band's bus after performing at a halftime show at a football game, university President James H. Ammons has announced the dismissal of Julian White, the longtime director of the school's famed marching band.

Champion was found unresponsive on the band's bus in Orlando, Fla., Saturday night, and later declared dead at Dr. Phillips Hospital. Initial results from the medical examiner were inconclusive, and the university is awaiting the results of an autopsy.

Police and former band members said that Champion was likely forced to walk through a gauntlet of fists on the chartered bus after the team's game in Orlando. Champion was reportedly vomiting and said he couldn't breathe before he collapsed and died.

In a statement released late Wednesday, Ammons explained the firing of White, who joined the university's faculty in 1972 and has been the director of the Marching 100 since 1998.

"While Dr. White has had a distinguished career in music education and administration within the university as director of bands, I did not feel there was competence involving reporting allegations of hazing within the department of music and the Marching 100," Ammons said, according to USA Today.

White said that he was given the choice to resign or be fired. His termination is effective Dec. 22, and until then he will be on paid administrative leave. He is barred from returning to campus.

Speaking with the Orlando Sentinel, Ammons made it clear that the university will not tolerate hazing of its students.

"We are serious: This has to stop," Ammons told the Sentinel. "The highest priority we have as a university is protecting the health, safety and well-being of our students."

A spokeswoman for the Orange County, Fla., sheriff's office told ABC News that investigators were conducting interviews with members of the school band, football team and others who were at the Florida Classic football game that night.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Tuesday
Nov222011

Hazing Eyed in Death of Florida A&M Drum Major

Scott Cunningham/Getty Images(ORLANDO, Fla.) -- The Florida drum major who died shortly after performing in a halftime show this past weekend may have been the victim of hazing, police said Tuesday.

Robert Champion, 26, was a student at Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University. He was found dead on the band’s bus Saturday night.

Ginette Rodriguez, a spokeswoman for the Orange County, Fla., sheriff’s office, told ABC News that investigators are still conducting interviews with members of the school band, football team and others who were at the Florida Classic football game that night.

The drum major was found unresponsive on the bus in Orlando Saturday night, and later declared dead at Dr. Phillips Hospital in Orlando. Initial results from the medical examiner were inconclusive, Rodriguez said. The sheriff’s department is awaiting further results.

School officials are awaiting autopsy results.

Friends of Champion told investigators the drum major had trouble breathing before he lost consciousness. Police initially said they do not suspect foul play, but the investigation is ongoing.

Champion’s father, also named Robert, said his son was in good shape, WSBTV.com reported.

“I think he was in pretty good condition. He ate and he trained and had no medical condition that I know of,” Champion said of his son.

Pamela Champion, Robert’s mother, said she is waiting to hear back from the medical examiner before speaking publicly about her son.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio







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