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FAMU students protest governor's call for president to resign

By the CNN Wire Staff
updated 10:20 AM EST, Fri December 16, 2011
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Florida Gov. Rick Scott wants FAMU president James Ammons to step down amid hazing investigation
  • The FAMU trustees chairman says a "very difficult decision" will be made Monday
  • FAMU has been a focal point since last month's death of a drum major after alleged hazing
  • Authorities found evidence of "financial irregularities" at the school, a state official said

(CNN) -- Florida Gov. Rick Scott met late Thursday with a group of several hundred Florida A&M students upset over his recommendation that trustees suspend the school's president in the wake of alleged hazing and "financial irregularities."

Chanting "We've got questions. You've got answers," the students marched to the governor's mansion, promising to stay until Scott changed his mind.

"We are not going to leave," said Breyon Love, the FAMU student body president. "Mr. Governor, with all due respect, we will be here all night, all day tomorrow until you apologize or rescind that recommendation."

Appearing in a gray sweatshirt, Scott addressed the crowd through a megaphone outside the mansion, thanking them for caring and coming out.

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"I want the best thing for FAMU. I want the best thing for the FAMU family. I want the best thing for the great state of Florida," the governor told students, although not conceding to their wishes.

Earlier, Scott had told the chairman of FAMU's board of trustees, Solomon L. Badger III, that he felt the board should take further action against university President James Ammons when it meets Monday, the statement said. The governor also "placed a call" to Ammons to notify him of these conversations.

"I think it's in his best interests (to) make sure that there is no question that this university is doing the right thing and cooperating," Scott said Thursday.

The discussions came after Scott returned Thursday from a trade mission to Israel and was briefed by staffers on recent developments out of the Tallahassee university, according to the governor's office.

Ammons responded Thursday that he was "sure that this investigation will determine that, under my leadership, the administration acted appropriately."

At the same time, he said he was prepared to accept his fate.

"I serve at the pleasure of the FAMU board of trustees, and I will abide by whatever decision the board reaches," he said.

Badger also released a statement in which he acknowledged "a communication with the governor." He said he hadn't talked with other trustees, promising that "we will make a decision about how we move forward Monday."

"This is a very difficult decision that we are facing," Badger said.

The band's director, Julian White, has been placed on administrative leave. One trustee, Rufus Montgomery, advocated a week ago that the university president should likewise be suspended -- but, instead, the board voted then to reprimand him.

"If you can place ... Julian White on administrative leave pending an investigation outcome, then we as a board can place James Ammons on administrative leave, procedure-wise," Montgomery said December 8.

The school president had pledged Wednesday to "root out this culture of hazing," though he declined to offer details about what specifically might change.

Band drum major Robert Champion Jr., 26, died after a November 19 football game following a suspected hazing incident.

He "reportedly threw up in the parking lot and started complaining of not being able to breathe," authorities said in a statement. He was taken to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead. No cause of death has been released.

Some band members said he may have died after a rite of passage called "crossing Bus C." One member, who spoke on condition of anonymity, explained that members "walk from the front of the bus to the back of the bus back backward while the bus is full of other band members, and you get beaten until you get to the back."

About three weeks before Champion's death, freshman band member Bria Hunter suffered a cracked femur, deep bone bruising and blood clots after being beaten repeatedly on the thighs, according to arrest affidavits from Tallahassee police.

Three men -- Sean Hobson, 23, Aaron Golson, 19, and James Harris, 22 -- were charged with hazing, a crime under Florida law, this week in her case. Hobson and Golson additionally are charged with felony battery.

"We're sending all these kids off to school. ... We expect them to come back with an education and alive," Scott said Thursday.

The university's troubles go beyond the hazing reports.

Jerry Bailey, commissioner of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, said Wednesday that authorities looking into Champion's death had found evidence of "financial irregularities having to do with the band and several other components of the university."

The suspected fraud is not directly related to Champion's death, Bailey said.

"It became apparent (from) some of the people that we interviewed (that) the financial irregularities had to do with the band travels and other sports and administrative components of the university," he said.

The state commissioner said it is premature to conclude that the irregularities are "systemic," adding that it is too soon to tell how much money may be involved. But, he added, "it's not just isolated" to the band program.

In a statement Wednesday, Badger -- chairman of FAMU's trustees -- said the university could not comment, "but we are cooperating fully with this and all investigations."

The governor said Thursday that he isn't advocating that Ammons resign but rather "step aside" until the investigation is complete. Ideally, this inquiry will show that whatever problems are "isolated," he added.

"My goal is to have a thorough investigation that everybody feels very comfortable that everybody cooperated with," Scott said. "Hopefully, there was nothing more (Ammons) could do."

Champions' parents did not reference Ammons specifically during an interview, which was conducted with HLN's Dr. Drew Pinsky before Scott made his recommendation. Yet the young man's father did state that it was important that there's accountability -- for both Champion's death and hazing in general.

"I think the school should be held accountable, I think that each organization should be held accountable," Robert Champion Sr. said Thursday. "We have to get down to the root of the problem, so that everyone can be responsible."

His wife, Pam Champion, said their family will champion anti-hazing education efforts and look into setting up a hotline through which people can anonymously call in reports of hazing.

She said that everyone at FAMU -- from administrators, to students, to alumni -- and other schools need to work together to stop hazing, which she called endemic to a larger cultural issue.

"If you're not going to be part of the solution, then you are part of the problem," Pam Champion said. "The idea is to (get) rid of the whole culture, the whole mind-set of it."

CNN's Jason Carroll, John Branch, Rich Phillips and Adam Reiss contributed to this report.

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