Thirteen face felony counts in death of FAMU student

admin | 5/10/2012, 5:50 a.m.

The continued practice and tradition of campus hazing was thrust on the national scene last November when Florida A&M University [FAMU] drum major Robert Champion, 26, died after an alleged violent episode in which several other band members physically assaulted him after the Florida Classic football game in Orlando. His tragic death has changed the mindset of students, alumni and administration alike at FAMU and placed the future of the band in jeopardy. Last Wednesday, Orange-Osceola State Attorney Lawson Lamar, in a nationally-televised news conference, filed charges against 13 defendants, each of whom allegedly took part in Champions beating and subsequent death. However, rather than facing murder for their participation, the defendants have been charged with hazing resulting in death, a third-degree felony. [This was ] an event that some early on mistakenly called a rite of passage, Lamar said. I have come to believe that hazing is a term for bullying. Its bullying with a tradition a tradition that we cannot bear in America. So far, Aaron Golson, 19, Caleb Jackson, 23 and Rikki Willis, 24, have been taken into custody. Officials say they will not release the names of all those charged until they are in police custody. FAMU officials respond Based on the advice of Vice President for Legal Affairs and General Counsel Avery McKnight, FAMU officials have declined any interviews at this time. But they did issue a statement on behalf of Solomon Badger, FAMU Board of Trustees chairman and Dr. James H. Ammons, FAMU president. We are vigorously working to eradicate hazing from FAMU and doing everything within our power to ensure an incident like this never happens again, they said. Our hearts and our prayers are with the Champion family and the extended FAMU family as we continue to deal with this tragedy. According to school officials, the following steps have been taken by FAMU in the past five months in their goal to eradicate hazing: Indefinite suspension of the FAMU Marching Band and cancellation of the 2012 FAMU Summer Band Camp for High School Students. Suspension of induction, enrollment, initiation, membership intake and recruitment for all student clubs and organizations until the Fall 2012. Amending FAMU anti-hazing regulations to include a 24-hour reporting rule for faculty, staff and students, as well as a provision against retaliation. Formation of an independent FAMU Anti-Hazing Committee. Announcement of FAMU Anti-Hazing Research Initiative a $50K grant for faculty members to conduct research that will study the nature and extent of hazing behaviors among campus organizations and groups. Students have also been encouraged to sing an anti-hazing pledge. By D. Kevin McNeirkmcneir@miamitimesonline.com