A Tallahassee police report made public Wednesday details a 2010 Florida A&M University band fraternity hazing incident involving two faculty members, shedding light on the difficulty of bringing such cases to prosecution.
Stalled reporting, lack of cooperation, insistence on anonymity, hesitation to press charges: Those are just a few of the hurdles that plagued this investigation, eventually leading to its closure as the statute of limitations ran out.
The 2010 incident described in Wednesday's report predated a hazing ritual that police said killed FAMU drum major Robert Champion last year, but was only reported to police after Champion's death made headlines, according to the Tallahassee police report.
It happened in spring 2010, at a spaghetti dinner hosted by FAMU music professor Diron Holloway, the report says. Pledges for FAMU's honorary band fraternity Kappa Kappa Psi were subjected to "prepping" and "necking" — slaps or beatings on the back, buttocks and neck with paddles. Police said another professor, Anthony Simons, was there, too.
FAMU police were notified about the incident by Julian White, FAMU's now embattled band director, two days after Champion died. White said he heard about it from a student. Because it happened off campus, FAMU's report said its investigators would refer the incident to Tallahassee police, according to the report. But they never did.
Tallahassee police learned about the incident — and the missing referral — from a newspaper story two months later.
That was the first problem.
Next, police investigators had to pin the allegations down. But the only victim who was willing to talk, the student who approached White, insisted on remaining anonymous and did not want to press charges. Even his mother got involved at one point, telling police she was "very upset" at the prospect of her son's name appearing in any reports.
Police then met with Holloway, the music professor, at his campus office. Holloway acknowledged that the gathering happened at his house, and that recruits were made to line up and recite information, and that if they didn't know information "someone rubs them up a little bit."
Holloway said he told the students, "don't hit nobody in the face, and don't paddle." If something went further than that, it probably happened outside or in the garage, he told police.
Why did he not step in and stop it?
"Actually," Holloway told police, "I should have said 'Enough of that, the party is over.' " He added that nobody was hurt.
Police then tried to track down Simons, the other faculty member, who deferred to his attorney. The report does not detail any further conversations.
Over the next two months, investigators reached out to students who were said to have been there and to Kappa Kappa Psi's national representatives. Several students "couldn't remember" what happened that night.
The national chapter initially said it would conduct an investigation, then backed off after learning of FAMU's own.
In the end, police determined that hazing occurred at Holloway's residence that was, in Holloway's words, "aggressive in manner … but as far as bodily harm, no." The case would have warranted misdemeanor charges, the report says, but because the two-year statute of limitations ran out, it was cleared.
FAMU president James H. Ammons responded Wednesday afternoon to the report, saying that the university would review the allegations and determine "appropriate action, up to and including dismissals."
The Florida Board of Governors, which oversees the state university system, had a concerned response of its own.
"The two-month time period that is confirmed to have elapsed — between the university's police department being notified and the local law enforcement agency being informed — is a serious issue, and it is possible that the reporting time frame would be a part of the Board of Governors' ongoing investigation regarding institutional controls," said board spokeswoman Kelly Layman.
Meanwhile, Gov. Rick Scott is now urging a FAMU task force charged with reviewing campus hazing policies to reverse a decision it made last week that would allow it to operate in private, according to the Tallahassee Democrat.
Times staff writer Katie Sanders contributed to this report. Kim Wilmath can be reached at [email protected] or 813-226-3337.