TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Florida A&M University, which has been rocked by a hazing scandal for nearly a year, insists in legal papers filed Monday that it is not to blame for the tragic death last year of drum major Robert Champion.
The university maintained that it was Champion, not the school, who bears the ultimate responsibility for his death. Champion died last November after he was beaten by fellow members of the famed Marching 100 band aboard a charter bus parked outside an Orlando hotel.
The university asserts that the 26-year-old Champion was a top leader in the band and he should have refused to take part in the hazing ritual.
"No public university or college has a legal duty to protect an adult student from the result of their own decision to participate in a dangerous activity while off-campus and after retiring from university-sponsored events," states the lengthy filing by Richard Mitchell, an attorney with the GrayRobinson law firm hired by FAMU.
Instead, the university maintains that Champion — who it says witnessed others being hazed that night on the bus — consented to the hazing ritual in order to gain respect among fellow band members.
Because of that, FAMU wants a judge to throw out the lawsuit filed against the university by Champion's family or at least delay action on it until criminal charges against Marching 100 band members are resolved. The family also sued the owner and driver of the charter bus where the ritual took place.
"Under these circumstances, Florida's taxpayers should not be held financially liable to Mr. Champion's estate for the ultimate result of his own imprudent, avoidable and tragic decision and death," states the motion filed by the university.
The legal filing represents the first formal response that the university has made in the wake of Champion's death, which led to arrests of band members, the suspension of the famed band for this football season and the resignation of the school's president. Twelve former members have pleaded not guilty to charges of felony hazing.
The suit was brought by Champion's parents, Robert and Pamela Champion of Decatur, Ga. University trustees had discussed trying to mediate the lawsuit, but FAMU's response may have doomed that effort.
Chris Chestnut, the attorney representing the Champion family, said the lawsuit needs to go forward so that the university is held accountable for tolerating a culture of hazing that went unchecked for years.
"Someone has got to hold FAMU accountable," Chestnut said Monday. "We are now more committed than ever to litigate this case to clear Robert's name and eradicate the culture of hazing for the safety of future students."
The Champions claim university officials did not take action to stop hazing even though a school dean proposed suspending the band because of hazing three days before their son died. In its response the university denied that any specific proposal or recommendation was made regarding suspending the band prior to Champion's death.
The Champion lawsuit also noted that school officials allowed nonstudents to play in the band and asserts that school officials fell short in enforcing anti-hazing policies and did not keep a close eye on band members to prevent hazing.
The university in the last several months has instituted a long list of new policies, including limiting the Marching 100 to just FAMU students and putting in new academic policies. Beginning in spring 2013, students will be required to sign an anti-hazing pledge before they're allowed to register for classes.
The State University System of Florida still has a pending probe into whether university officials had ignored past warnings about problems with hazing at FAMU.
Hundreds of pages of records reviewed earlier this year by the Associated Press showed years of repeated warnings about brutal hazing passed without any serious response from the school's leadership until Champion died.
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This Week’s Celebrity Instagrams (10/7-10/14)
25 photos Launch gallery
1. Nite | to the tune of @cnn 😞
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2. Got so much work to do but I just wanna stay in bed and binge watch #Gameofthrones and start the new season of #OnceUponATime. I know I can't be the only one. Right? Ha 💤🦁🍂 #saturday
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3. Mommy's weekend turn up ❤️👶🏾💕🍼 Wouldn't trade it for nothing. #TeamNoSleep lol #HesMyBiggestBlessing ✨
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4. One of them oh shit mont we made it feelings … this shit still be unreal 💯💪🏾 @remyboymonty1738
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5. Tickets Available October 14 @ticketmaster.
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6. People magazine Home edition has raided my house! Get a sneak peek into the bedroom life of the Leakes and see other parts of my home now at PEOPLE.COM
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7. They want to kick you when you down, but kick it when you up
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8. Got my advance copy of #Mafia3 at @gamestop. Get yours via link in the bio #Mafia3 #Ad
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9. This is some of the cast and our diverse team of writers in the writer's room creating funny sh*t for @nbcmarlon what a fun room! Lots of jokes, great stories and having a great time doing what we love... making people laugh and feel something. Look out for our show next year @nbcmarlon we bringing sitcoms back to NBC
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10. #HappySunday☀️Thank you @4everbrandy101 💛💡💛
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11. Happy to be back in Central Falls, RI breaking ground for the One Stop Health Center and hosting a local community event with #Vaseline.
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12. Thank you all in advance 💋💋💋 #Repost @urbansvintage・・・#TarajiPHenson's memoir #AroundTheWayGirl will be available everywhere TODAY October 11th! Will you be purchasing a copy? #UrbansVintage
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13. Moms got my back
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14. @galore dinner party glo ✨ thanks to @styledbygiigii
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15. 🌹#ThisIsWhatTheTruthFeelsLikeTOUR #forevereve
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16. Yes, all those videos I've been posting have led to this: the introduction of skincare to @TYRABeauty! This is the rundown on the new line:Years of research and beauty tips I live by led me to produce the most effective and delightful skincare out there. I'm all about taking really good care of my skin, so I can look like I'm aging in #TyraYears and go filter free on Instagram when I feel like it! Now, it's your turn. ✨My Mama always told me not to wash my face with just my hands. "Tyra, girl, you're just moving the dirt around!" And I've listened. First up is The Clean Machine.... ...a 3-in-1 foaming face wash that cleanses, removes makeup and purified your skin. It has patented technology - a attached Turbo Cleansing Tool - to give you that deep clean that makes your skin feel super fresh. Wanna know more? Yeah, baby. Click that link in my bio.
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17. On set of #beingmaryjane like... ❤️😬💃🏾
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18. #carouselofhope@yvetteshelton100@makeupbylatrice @thestacetheface@marialuciahohan24
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19. I refuse to let a little cold stop me from my daily routines to greatness. #onlythestrongsurvive #warriors
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20. Big things begin with big THINKING... #BusinessEthics #SetLife 🎥
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21. Goodnight - here's a song
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22. Words can't explain the feeling that I have right now.....God is good. look momma I made it. #Harts #Blessed #WhatNow #comedicrockstarshit #4DaysAway
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23. I tried to get a better video with out the nasty bib but she started getting mad at me..lol! Big cuz @the_queen_caitlin trying to show her what to do. #MamasToots #HeirBear👑💜
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24. Gorgeous Serena joined Beyoncé in Formation last night on stage in New Jersey!!!
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25. 😜 @lifeofdesiigner & @rockohill
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