Thursday, December 14, 2017
Education

Four FAMU band members charged with hazing

TALLAHASSEE — Police have accused four more Florida A&M students of hazing fellow members of the Marching 100 as part of an initiation into a band clique last fall.

The misdemeanor charges stem from an event before the death of drum major Robert Champion on Nov. 19.

The students charged Thursday are Hakeem Birch, 21; Brandon Benson, 23; Anthony Mingo, 22; and Denise Bailey, 22. They belonged to a subgroup for clarinetists known as the "Clones," according to an arrest affidavit by FAMU police.

They either participated, oversaw or failed to stop the hazing of five band members over the course of three or four "initiation meetings" at the off-campus home of Benson and Birch, police said.

In meetings that began around Sept. 1, the pledges lined up according to height and were forced to exercise and play music while being punched, slapped on the back and paddled, police said. One of the pledges took a picture of bruises on her buttocks after the initiation and quit pledging.

According to the affidavit:

• Birch "prepped," or slapped, one of the pledges on the back with both hands and told her to do the same to the student who quit. In a third meeting, he prepped the remaining members because of her departure.

• Bailey and Mingo collected students' "allocations," or subsidies given to Marching 100 members for expenses on out-of-town band trips.

• Mingo paddled one of the students and hit two.

• Bailey "led the exercise for about an hour, and pressured the line to continue even after exhaustion."

• Benson and Bailey coordinated meetings through one of the pledges.

All of the students except Benson denied the meetings took place, according to the affidavit. He denied that hazing occurred.

They were booked in the Leon County jail and posted $500 bail. Those who could be reached declined to comment Friday.

FAMU police launched an investigation of the hazing initiations on Nov. 15 — four days before Champion's death — after a report by band director Julian White.

FAMU president James Ammons fired White after Champion's death for failing to stop hazing during his 13-year tenure as director. But White said he had warned school officials repeatedly since 1989. He was reinstated and placed on administrative leave.

Included in a packet documenting his antihazing actions is a Nov. 16 memo he wrote to Ammons and other campus leaders about this case. He describes his decision to suspend the students who participated in and administered the hazing, which he said occurred during homecoming week.

"I am determined to eliminate hazing in the band," he wrote.

White declined to be interviewed. His attorney, Charles "Chuck" Hobbs II, said, "Dr. White applauds the efforts of law enforcement to arrest individuals that he suspended for hazing and hopes that they are prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law."

Three of the students were band members during the initiations. Bailey had been suspended by White before the fall semester for missing rehearsals, he said.

The university offered no comment, saying the information was referred to its judicial affairs office and is protected by student privacy laws. Ammons declined to give an update on several ongoing investigations, as well as the future of the Marching 100, which he suspended after Champion's death.

"We're very limited in what we can say," Ammons told the Times.

No arrests have been made in Champion's death. It happened on a bus parked outside the band's Orlando hotel after the Florida Classic against Bethune Cookman University. Champion, 26, played clarinet.

Medical examiners found bruises on his chest, arms, shoulder and back and said he suffered extensive hemorrhaging and shock.

Champion's parents have announced plans to sue Fabulous Coach Lines, the company that owns the bus. The family has also said it intends to sue FAMU.

In December, three band members were arrested in the beating of freshman clarinetist Bria Hunter, who sustained a cracked femur while pledging a subgroup for Georgia-based players last year.

Times staff writer David DeCamp and researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report.

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