COMPILED FROM STAFF AND WIRE REPORTS
Here’s an update of the latest key events surrounding the killing of Florida A&M University Marching “100’’ drum major Robert Champion, who was beaten to death by his band mates during a hazing ritual after the Florida Classic football game in Orlando on Nov. 19, 2011:
On Monday, FAMU filed a legal motion asking a judge to permanently dismiss or defer ruling on the wrongful death lawsuit filed against the school by Champion’s parents. The school’s argument: Robert Champion is responsible for his own death from hazing.
In a 23-page motion filed in an Orlando-area circuit court, FAMU’s attorneys essentially said that Champion, an adult, allowed himself to be beaten to death when he decided to “cross Bus C,” as the band’s hazing ritual was named.
Attorney Rick Mitchell of the GrayRobinson law firm of Orlando wrote that Champion knew the dangers of hazing. He signed an anti-hazing pledge with the university months before he was beaten to death. He witnessed two other students submit to the hazing ritual immediately before him. And for several months previously, Champion had debated with his friend and fellow drum major Keon Hollis about whether to go through with it.
“Respectfully, as a 26-year-old adult and leader in FAMU’s band, Mr. Champion should have refused to participate in the planned hazing event and reported it to law enforcement or University administrators. Under these circumstances, Florida’s taxpayers should not be held financially liable to Mr. Champion’s estate for the ultimate result of his own imprudent, avoidable and tragic decision and death,” Mitchell wrote.
Family’s lawyer ‘shocked’
Champion family attorney Christopher Chestnut said Monday night that he was shocked at “the contents of their defense.”
“We cannot ignore the irony and audacity of an institution in blaming Robert for his death,” Chestnut said. “Blaming students for hazing allows the culture of hazing to become deadly.”
A dozen former members of the Marching “100’’ are charged with felony hazing in Champion’s death. All 12 have pleaded not guilty to the third-degree felony, punishable by up to five years in prison.
The judge in the lawsuit likely will set a date to hear arguments on FAMU’s motion. Meantime, the university’s legal team and Champion family lawyers are in the process of selecting a mediator and a mediation date – probably sometime next month – during which they may try to reach a settlement.
On Wednesday, state investigators revealed that they found examples of financial mismanagement at FAMU, including per diem payments made to people who were not students when the band was traveling last year.
A total of 79 people – including elementary school students and alumni – received the unauthorized payments, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement concluded Wednesday in its investigative report following a nine-month investigation.
The report indicates that a lack of internal controls and administrative oversight “substantially contributed to a systematic lack of regard for or adherence to university policy and procedure.
“Neither FAMU nor then band director Julian White could provide an explanation of how and/or why this occurred,” investigators wrote.
About two weeks ago, FDLE announced it had made one arrest as part of the financial investigation, which grew out of a larger probe into Champion’s death.
FAMU Director of Special Events Tammy Hamlet was charged with eight counts of misdemeanor fraud for allegedly padding her travel expense reports.
Dr. Julian White, the band’s longtime director who retired several months ago, was partially blamed for the theft of $30,000 to $40,000 in band dues several years ago, according to the report.
White failed to deposit the cash, checks and money orders into a university account, choosing instead to keep the money in a locked storage room. After it was discovered stolen, he did not report the theft for about three months. When he did go to the FAMU police department, he reported that only $12,000 in cash was taken, the report said.
FDLE and university police investigations were unable to determine who took the money. And while campus police forwarded the incident to the school’s Division of Audit and Compliance for an investigation, no administrative review was ever done.
The Board of Governors, which oversees Florida’s public universities, is also looking into FAMU’s internal controls – whether the administration did enough to combat hazing in the months before Champion’s beating death. A draft report of that investigation should be completed at the end of September or in early October, said an official from the Board of Governors.
FAMU’s accrediting body – the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges – is looking into problems related to, among other things, campus safety and university finances.
The university has made a number of changes in recent months to fight hazing on campus, including launching a website recently that allows students to report hazing in real-time to the campus police department.
Starting in spring 2013, students will not be able to register for classes until they sign an anti-hazing pledge, FAMU announced last week.
Denise-Marie Ordway and Stephen Hudak of the Orlando Sentinel (MCT) contributed to this report.