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FAMU Hazing Ritual Tied to Student's Death

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By Andrew Chow, Esq. on November 29, 2011 9:10 AM

A member of Florida A&M University's famed marching band is dead, and investigators say a notorious FAMU hazing ritual likely led to his death.

Robert Champion, 26, a drum major from Atlanta, was found unresponsive in the band's bus after a football game in Orlando. Champion had vomited and complained he couldn't breathe before he died Nov. 19, the Associated Press reports.

Before that, investigators say Champion was subjected to a hazing ritual -- probably forced to walk through a "gauntlet of fists" on the bus, ABC News reports.

No charges have yet been filed, but in Florida, any death that is linked to hazing is a third-degree felony.

FAMU reacted to Champion's death by suspending the band, known as the "Marching 100," and firing its director.

Champion's parents, in turn, have announced plans to sue FAMU.

If Champion's parents win their suit, Florida law limits a state institution's payouts to $200,000, the AP reports. Any amount in excess of that must be approved by the legislature and the governor.

Hazing rituals are nothing new for FAMU's Marching 100. Thirty band members were kicked off the band this semester because of hazing, the AP reports.

In another hazing incident in 2001, a Marching 100 band member was paddled so hard in an initiation rite, he suffered kidney failure, ABC News reports. The victim of that hazing incident was awarded $1.8 million in a civil lawsuit.

Other band hazing incidents in 1998 and 1989 resulted in police investigations, but no charges.

An attorney for Champion's parents says he hopes this puts an end to FAMU's hazing culture. Champion "died in foolishness," the attorney told ABC, but "his legacy can be the end of hazing at FAMU."

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