LITHONIA, Ga. (AP) — Florida A&M University had a “culture of hazing” that led to the recent death of a marching band member, an attorney for the student’s family said Monday.
Attorney Christopher Chestnut said the family plans to file a lawsuit in the death of 26-year-old Robert Champion, who was found Nov. 19 on a bus parked outside an Orlando, Fla., hotel after the school’s football team lost to rival Bethune-Cookman.
Police say Champion, a clarinet player who recently was named drum major, had been vomiting and complained he couldn’t breathe shortly before he collapsed. Police suspect hazing but have not released any more details about what may have led to Champion’s death. Chestnut also refused to talk about any specifics of the death.
“We are confident from what we’ve learned that hazing was a part of his death. We’ve got to expose this culture and eradicate it,” he said. “There’s a patterns and practice of covering up this culture.”
Champion’s parents said their son never told them about any troubles with the band.
“He loved the band, and every band he’s been in. He loved performing in the band,” said Champion’s mother, Pam Champion. “My thing is to make sure this does not happen to anyone else, let people know this is real.”
Since Champion’s death, the school has shuttered the famed Marching 100 band and the rest of the music department’s performances, and the longtime band director, Julian White, was fired. Florida Gov. Rick Scott has said state investigators would join the probe and the college announced an independent review led by a former state attorney general.
The Marching 100 – whose rich history includes performing at several Super Bowls and representing the U.S. in Paris at the 200th anniversary of the French Revolution – was scheduled to perform at the fall commencement on Dec. 16.