Saturday, April 21, 2018

FAMU rejects hazing blame

TALLAHASSEE — Florida A&M University, which has been rocked by a hazing scandal for nearly a year, insists in legal papers filed Monday that it is not to blame for the tragic death last year of drum major Robert Champion.

The university maintained that it was Champion, not the school, who bears the ultimate responsibility for his death. Champion died last November after he was beaten by fellow members of the famed Marching 100 band aboard a charter bus parked outside an Orlando hotel. The university asserts that the 26-year-old Champion was a top leader in the band and he should have refused to take part in the hazing ritual.

"No public university or college has a legal duty to protect an adult student from the result of their own decision to participate in a dangerous activity while off-campus and after retiring from university-sponsored events," states the lengthy filing by Richard Mitchell, an attorney with the GrayRobinson law firm hired by FAMU.

Instead, the university maintains that Champion — who it says witnessed others being hazed that night on the bus — consented to the hazing ritual in order to gain respect among fellow band members.

Because of that, FAMU wants a judge to throw out the lawsuit filed against the university by Champion's family or at least delay action on it until criminal charges against Marching 100 band members are resolved. The family also sued the owner and driver of the charter bus where the ritual took place.

"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," states the motion filed by the university.

The legal filing represents the first formal response that the university has made in the wake of Champion's death, which led to arrests of band members, the suspension of the famed band for this football season and the resignation of the school's president. Twelve former members have pleaded not guilty to charges of felony hazing.

The suit was brought by Champion's parents, Robert and Pamela Champion of Decatur, Ga.

Chris Chestnut, the attorney representing the Champion family, said the lawsuit needs to go forward so that the university is held accountable for tolerating a culture of hazing that went unchecked for years.

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