The parents of a Florida A&M University (FAMU) drum major have filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the university, following the student’s death in a hazing ritual. The university’s president, James Ammons, has announced he will resign, after the board of trustees gave him a vote of no confidence.
Robert Champion, age 26, died after FAMU’s renowned marching band traveled from Tallahassee to a “Battle of the Bands” event in Orlando, held in conjunction with the “Florida Classic” football game. Champion died on the band’s bus after what officials described as a brutal hazing ritual.
Criminal charges have been brought against 13 band members. Two received misdemeanor charges, and the other 11 face felonies that carry a prison sentence of up to six years.
The wrongful death lawsuit accuses FAMU of tolerating hazing even after the hospitalization of three band members on previous occasions. According to the lawsuit, there were at least 107 hazing incidents at the university since 1983.
The lawsuit also claims that three days before Champion’s death, the university failed to act on a proposal to suspend the band in order to put a stop to the hazing problem.
Champion’s mother welcomed the resignation of the university president. She said the family had created a foundation named after her son that will work to eliminate hazing from universities.
The family’s original lawsuit was filed in February against Fabulous Coach Lines and Wendy Millette, the bus driver, who allegedly allowed the hazing to happen. An amendment to that suit has been filed, adding the allegations against the university.
The amendment to the suit also contains details of the allegations against Millette, saying that she would regularly park the bus in an isolated area and discourage other drivers from intervening in the hazing rituals. According to the lawsuit, other drivers made complaints to the management of the bus company, but were told to stay out of it.
The wrongful death lawsuit alleges that Millette guarded the door of the bus while Champion was being hazed, and forced him to get back on when he came to the bus door vomiting.
The marching band has been suspended indefinitely by the university. FAMU’s high-stepping “Marching 100” band is known for having introduced a style of showmanship and pageantry to university marching bands that previously focused on military precision. The band has been judged among the best marching bands in the nation.
University President Ammons decided to resign after eight out of 12 board trustees gave him a vote of no confidence in his ability to lead the university.