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Drum major's death ruled homicide as tensions rise between FAMU students and Gov. Rick Scott

TALLAHASSEE — Investigators ruled the death of Florida A&M drum major Robert Champion a homicide on Friday, a somber but not unexpected announcement that capped a tumultuous week for the country's largest historically black university.

Champion, 26, died from blunt force trauma sustained from hazing. Medical examiners found bruises on his chest, arms, shoulder and back and said he suffered extensive hemorrhaging. He was not drunk. Drugs were not in his system.

The findings further twist an already complicated story line.

Gov. Rick Scott injected himself into the death investigation Thursday and again on Friday when he recommended university President James Ammons be indefinitely suspended. Ammons met with Scott on Friday afternoon and said he would consider Scott's request but that it was ultimately up to the university's trustees.

Also Friday, a new allegation surfaced. An 18-year-old graduate of the university's K-12 laboratory school was arrested in October after Florida officials say he molested an 8-year-old student twice in a school bathroom.

The events, which overshadowed the school's Friday night commencement, followed a spontaneous and peaceful protest by about 1,000 Florida A&M students who marched two miles from campus to the Governor's Mansion to oppose Scott's intervention.

“This is not the time for FAMU to be without its university president," Student Senate President Marissa West, 21, said at the protest. "We believe in our university president."

No arrests have been announced in Champion's death. Friday's report from the medical examiner, however, revealed more about how it happened.

Champion collapsed within an hour of being hazed after a rivalry football game in Orlando Nov. 19, the Orange County Medical Examiner's Office determined. Champion complained of thirst, fatigue and vision loss before going into shock. As officials said before, he also experienced shortness of breath and vomiting.

He had no broken bones, investigators said. "He had no evidence of natural disease except for a slightly enlarged heart with a normal left ventricular wall," the report states.

The university suspended the band, the famous Marching 100, while the investigation into Champion's death and broader accusations of hazing continue.

On Monday, Tallahassee police arrested three band members in the beating of an 18-year-old clarinetist who wanted to join a band subgroup for students from Georgia. Bria Hunter, who attended the same high school as Champion, suffered a cracked femur.

Officials also learned this week that state law enforcement investigators launched a new probe into the university after uncovering possible employee fraud and misconduct during its initial investigation into Champion's death.

The incidents, along with a report that an 18-year-old molested an 8-year-old on the university campus, led Scott on Thursday to press university trustees to suspend Ammons.

Trustees earlier this month decided against suspending Ammons, opting instead to reprimand the way he allegedly handled reports of hazing from band director Julian White. Trustees will meet Monday to consider Scott's recommendation.

"I think as governor of the state, this is something that is very important to me," Scott told reporters. "I care about what happens to FAMU."

Scott made the same pleas to the students who woke him Thursday night.

Students organized in a campus ballroom through text messages on their cell phones and on Twitter before they marched to the Governor's Mansion chanting, "We are FAMU!" and "Oct. 3, 1887" — the date the university was founded.

At the mansion, male and female students locked arms and assembled rows deep in front of the home's black gates.

One student held a sign "Rick Scott will learn today." The group shouted about their school:

"Everywhere we go/

"People want to know/

"Who we are/

"So we tell them/

"We are the Rattlers/

"The mighty mighty Rattlers."

Eventually, Scott came out of the mansion in a gray Super Bowl sweatshirt and borrowed a megaphone to speak with the students.

"First off, thanks everybody for caring. Thanks everybody for coming out," Scott said. He told the students he wanted Florida A&M to thrive as a university.

At one point, he also talked about growing up in public housing before the group of black students.

"We're not poor!" yelled back 22-year-old university student Ciara Taylor.

Taylor and a few students stayed at the Governor's Mansion past midnight.

Taylor had an exam at 7:30 a.m. Friday.

"I feel like if I'm not here tonight," she said, "then we might not have an institution to go back to."

The Associated Press and Times staff reporters Steve Bousquet, Tia Mitchell, Aaron Sharockman and Michael C. Bender and Times staff researcher Natalie Watson contributed to this report. Katie Sanders can be reached at ksanders@tampabay.com or (850)224-7263.

Drum major's death ruled homicide as tensions rise between FAMU students and Gov. Rick Scott 12/16/11 [Last modified: Friday, December 16, 2011 9:22pm]
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