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Sheriff: Charges coming in hazing death of Fla. drum major

Posted on: 11:52 pm, May 1, 2012, by

Robert Champion (AP Photo)

Robert Champion (AP Photo)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — At least five people will face criminal charges in the hazing death of a Florida A&M University drum major aboard a band bus in Orlando last fall, authorities said Tuesday.

Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings told The Associated Press that multiple defendants will be charged in 26-year-old Robert Champion’s death, although he refused to say what the charges are.

Prosecutors have built five cases against defendants with charges ranging from misdemeanors to felony charges, said Danielle Tavernier, a spokeswoman for the State Attorney’s Office in Orlando. She refused to specify the charges pending an announcement by prosecutors on Wednesday.

Prosecutors sometime cluster defendants by case, meaning the number of defendants could be higher than five, said Bob Dekle, a University of Florida law professor.

Champion’s death was ruled a homicide by medical examiners, and the case has jeopardized the future of FAMU’s legendary marching band and shaken the school’s Tallahassee campus.

“The family’s position is if indeed there are charges tomorrow, it’s been a long time in coming,” Christopher Chestnut, an attorney for Champion’s parents, said Tuesday evening. “It is bittersweet. Obviously it’s comforting to know that someone will be held accountable for Robert’s murder, but it’s also disconcerting to think of the impact of the future of these students. This is just unfortunate all the way around.”

Chestnut said family members are disappointed that authorities didn’t give them enough advance notice to travel from Georgia to Florida to attend a press conference Wednesday to announce the results of the investigation. But he said the family is also “thankful there is some movement on this case after five months of delay.”

No arrests had been made by Tuesday afternoon. Both Demings, attending a meeting in Tallahassee, and Tavernier, in Orlando, said the arrests would likely take place in multiple jurisdictions.

The medical examiner’s office in Orlando found last year that Champion had bruises to his chest, arms, shoulder and back and internal bleeding that caused him to go into shock, which killed him.

Detectives say Champion was hazed on Nov. 19 by other band members on a bus parked outside an Orlando hotel, following a performance. Witnesses told emergency dispatchers that Champion was vomiting before he was found unresponsive aboard the bus. Hazing that involves bodily harm is a third-degree felony in Florida.

Champion’s parents have sued the company that owns the bus where the hazing took place. In a civil suit, Champion’s family alleges that the bus driver stood guard outside the bus while the hazing took place. The bus company owner initially said the bus driver was helping other band members with their equipment when the hazing took place.

Witnesses in the Champion case have told his parents he might have been targeted because he opposed the culture of hazing they say has long existed in the band, the parents’ attorney has said.

It has also been suggested to them that Champion was targeted because he was gay and a candidate for chief drum major.

In a January interview with the AP, Champion’s parents dismissed the notion that his sexual orientation brought on the attack, which was to their knowledge the first time he’d ever been hazed.

“The main reason that we heard is because he was against hazing, and he was totally against it,” Champion’s father, Robert Champion Sr. of Decatur, Ga., said in an interview.

FAMU has suspended the band and launched a task force to recommend steps it could take to curtail hazing.

Source: Associated Press

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