Florida officials have announced that they are going ahead and filing charges against people they suspect are responsible for the recent hazing death of the Florida A&M University marching band member Robert Champion. Although medical report found that no single blow was the cause of Champion’s death, the prosecutors contend that he was beaten to death during the rituals commonly associated with the initiation into the band.
The inability to pinpoint which blow ultimately caused the 26-year-old drum major’s death led authorities to charge 13 defendants Wednesday with “hazing” rather than more serious counts like manslaughter or second-degree murder.
“His death is not linked to one sole strike but it is attributed to multiple blows,” said State Attorney Lawson Lamar at a news conference announcing the charges. Hazing is abuse and humiliation used as part of an initiation.
Champion’s mother, Pam, said she was glad charges were brought but disappointed they weren’t more severe.
The victim’s father called on both the University and the organization in charge of the school’s marching band to “clean house,” saying that it wouldn’t be right if the band took the field again before it had taken steps to make sure that no other student meets the same fate his son did.
Some have expressed dissatisfaction with the hazing charges brought by the State Attorney Lawson Lamar saying that manslaughter or even second-degree murder charges would have been more appropriate.
“The prosecutor in this case had an opportunity to do something, to send a stronger message, a deserved message based on the conduct,” said Tamara Lave, a University of Miami law professor. “And the prosecutor didn’t.”
Lamar said his office didn’t have the evidence to bring more serious charges.
Although the prosecutor’s office declined to release the names of the men being charged until the arrest warrants were executed, or until they were all given the opportunity to turn themselves in voluntarily, the identities of some of the men have begun to leak out as they were taken into custody or posted bond. Rikki Willis and Bryan Jones have already been released after posting a $15,000 bond, and another man, Caleb Jackson, remains behind bars since the charges are considered a violation of his probation for an earlier battery charge.
Between the release of the cause of death and the announcement of the charges, some speculated that the severity of the hazing Champion had undergone had to do with the fact that he was gay, although the Champion family denied that that was one of the main reason for the incident.
That Mr. Champion was gay was “a private thing, not something he advertised publicly,” said his mother, Pam Champion, who believes her son had been targeted as retribution for his well-known stance against hazing, writes Robbie Brown at the New York Times.
There’s no indication yet if any FAMU faculty or staff members are among the 13 facing charges, but two music professors, Anthony E. Simons III and Diron T. Followay who were implicated in an unrelated hazing incident that took place in 2010, have resigned their positions last month, after being advised that the school planned to terminate them at the end of April.