4 Florida A&M band members arrested, accused of hazing

Story highlights

  • The band director's attorney again calls for reinstatement
  • The arrests are not related to the November hazing death of Robert Champion
  • They four students are charged with hazing those who wanted to join a clarinet group
  • The college is looking into how best to address hazing problems
Four members of Florida A&M University's fabled Marching 100 band have been arrested on hazing charges, a spokeswoman for the Tallahassee college said Friday.
The charges are unrelated to the November hazing death of drum major Robert Champion.
FAMU police arrested three of the students Thursday night; the fourth turned himself in Friday morning, said Sharon Saunders, the FAMU spokeswoman.
The students -- Hakeem Birch, Brandon Benson, Anthony Mingo and Denise Bailey -- were charged with hazing five Marching 100 band members who wanted to join a group in the clarinet section known as the "Clones."
The five told police they were made to line up according to height at the start of each meeting. Then they were punched, slapped and paddled, according to the arrest warrant.
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One of the students, who quit the pledging process after the first meeting, took a digital photo of the bruising on her body.
The initiation meetings, which began last September, took place at the home of Birch and Benson, the warrant said.
Champion's death prompted FAMU's board of trustees to approve a three-part plan to tackle the issue of hazing on campus. The plan includes an independent blue-ribbon panel of experts to investigate.
Trustee Belinda Reed Shannon told board members the panel would take a "forward-looking" approach at hazing on campus, and would not conflict with any current investigations into the Marching 100 band.
Champion, 26, collapsed in Orlando on a bus carrying members of the band after a November football game that included a halftime performance by the group.
Christopher Chestnut, a lawyer for Champion's family, has charged that Champion died after receiving "some dramatic blows, perhaps (having an) elevated heart rate" tied to "a hazing ritual" that took place on the bus.
Some band members have said Champion died after taking part in a rite of passage called "crossing Bus C." One member, who spoke on condition of anonymity, explained that students "walk from the front of the bus to the back of the bus backward while the bus is full of other band members, and you get beaten until you get to the back."
No one has been charged in Champion's death; the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Orange County Sheriff's Office are investigating the case.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement also launched a separate investigation into band employees, who were allegedly engaged in financial fraud.
The medical examiner's office has said Champion "collapsed and died within an hour of a hazing incident during which he suffered multiple blunt trauma blows to his body."
An autopsy conducted after his death found "extensive contusions of his chest, arms, shoulder and back," as well as "evidence of crushing of areas of subcutaneous fat," which is the fatty tissue directly under a person's skin.
An attorney for the band's director, on paid administrative leave since shortly after Champion's death, said his client issued letters of suspension and withheld scholarships "of all students whose names were provided to him once the incident was reported."
Julian White also informed campus police, attorney Chuck Hobbs said in a written statement.
"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," according to the statement. "Dr. White has been the leading anti-hazing advocate on the FAMU campus for years and his legal team continues to call upon President James Ammons to fully reinstate him to his position since the original reason for termination -- failure to report hazing -- is clearly unfounded by the record evidence."
White originally had been suspended with termination scheduled for December 22, but he was subsequently placed on leave until completion of the investigation into Champion's death.