FAMU denies responsibility

Florida A&M University has said that drum major Robert Champion was responsible for what happened to him on Bus C on the November night when he was hazed and eventually died. 

According to a filing Monday in the Orange County Circuit Court by Richard Mitchell, who was hired to represent FAMU in the civil case, Champion, in his position as a leader, was aware of the dangers involved with hazing, yet “expressly assumed the risk of the hazing injuries that caused his death.” 

The documents also state that Champion’s knowledge of hazing,, and his witnessing of others being hazed that night, left the decision to participate as a personal choice.

“He realized and appreciated the possibility of injuries as a result of such danger, and not withstanding the opportunity to avoid the danger simply by not showing up at the designated place and time, he deliberately exposed himself to the danger,.” according to the filing. 

The Champion family filed a wrongful death suit that  Champion’s parents, Robert and Pamela Champion, filed against it and Fabulous Coach Lines in July, claiming the university “negligently failed to have any policies or procedures governing, monitoring, or disciplining FAMU Band members for facilitation, participation or encouragement of hazing activities, or in the alternative.”

In addition,Mitchell also claimed that the university is not responsible for the actions of students while not involved in university-sanctioned or sponsored events, and that the damages incurred “were caused by the active and intervening acts of persons not under FAMU’s control.” 

According to prosecutors, Champion was killed following the Florida Classic in Orlando on Nov. 19, 2011, after he participated in a hazing incident called “crossing over,” where he endured punches, kicks and violence from other band members as he tried to push his way to the back of a charter bus. 

Champion willingly submitted to hazing after his duties as a FAMU student and member of the band were completed, investigators found.

Documents also place blame on bus company Fabulous Coach Lines, and driver Wendy Millette, who were considered to have “exclusive control” over the vehicle and its occupants.

It states, “[Millette] granted access to more than 20 people and commenced standing guard at the door of Bus C.” 

According to testimony during the investigation of Champion’s death, Millette allegedly not only stood guard of the entrance of the bus, but also came in contact with Champion following his “crossing over” when he began vomiting, telling him “that he would be alright” before forcing him back onto the bus.    

Millette’s intervention and role in the events “cumulatively led to the fatal injuries suffered by [Mr. Champion],” according to the the Champion family lawsuit.  

As part of its response, the university has moved for dismissal of the charges based on the “overbroad” nature and “lack of foundation” in the case filed against it, citing Florida’s sovereign immunity clause that protects public entities from frivolous lawsuits. 

 “Since Mr. Champion’s lethal injuries arose from his participation in unlawful acts of hazing, Florida’s sovereign immunity and forcible felony participation-defense statute absolutely bar the Plantiff’s claim against FAMU,” read the documents. 

Witnesses and statements from the investigation said Champion was a willing participant in hazing, either through planning, subjecting himself as a hazee or failing to report planned events barred by law.

His role in the committing of a crime, hazing, is also a defense point against the suit filed by the Champion family.

The Orange County State Attorney’s Office indicted 12 individuals for their involvement in Champion’s death. They are scheduled for trial on Oct. 8. 

Since Champion’s death,  the Marching “100” band has been suspended, director Julian White resigned and James H. Ammons resigned following a no-confidence vote by the FAMU Board of Trustees.

FAMU has since made former Provost Larry Robinson acting interim president as the university conducts a search for Ammons’ permanent replacement.

The Champion’s lawsuit was filed  against FAMU  on the same day Ammons announced his resignation.

The university has implemented new programs and admission standards to support its staunch stance against hazing.

Students will be required to sign an anti-hazing pledge prior to being able to register for classes for the spring 2013 semester. 

The Champion’s attorney Christopher Chestnut   did  not  return calls for comment, but an employee with the firm said there would be no statement released.    



 Emmanuela Bienaime, 20, second-year history education student

  “FAMU is not responsible for the actions of the students committed. Those are adult students who need to take responsibility for their actions and not blame FAMU.”

Samson St. Remy, 29, graduate occupational therapy student and former band member

“Allowing anyone to haze you in any organization is based upon your own self-esteem. The only reason that actually happened was because he felt he had to be a part of something. He had the choice to say yes or no. 

Alexis Lovelace, 19, third-year biology student

“I don’t really understand how someone could be responsible for their own death. That’s a little ridiculous. To take it to the matter of him being responsible for his own death, I don’t think that’s acceptable.

Alexis Lovelace, 19, third-year biology student

“I don’t really understand how someone could be responsible for their own death. That’s a little ridiculous. To take it to the matter of him being responsible for his own death, I don’t think that’s acceptable.

Jerald Cheesborough, 24, fourth- year history student

“When parents send their child to school, they send them to get an education and learn. Anything that their child gets involved in outside of that is the child’s responsibility.”

Stephanie Seide, 21, fourth-year psychology student

“It would be harsh to say that you agree, but everyone knows exactly what they do. We’re all grown, we’re all old and we all understand what we put ourselves into especially this time in our lives. I completely understand why FAMU would say that.”