Robert Champion's Parents Sue FAMU For Hazing Death

PHOTO: Robert Champion, a drum major in Florida A&M Universitys Marching 100 band, performs during halftime of a football game in Orlando, Fla, Nov. 19 2011.
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Florida A&M University President James Ammons resigned today, the same day parents of drum major Robert Champion, who was beaten to death during a hazing ritual on a bus, filed a lawsuit adding the school to a wrongful death suit.

Ammons resigned in a letter to the FAMU governing board, according to the Associated Press. Representatives from the university did not immediately respond to ABC News' request for comment.

In the lawsuit, Champion's parents, Robert and Pamela Champion, allege that the school did not do enough to stop the hazing that was a well-known tradition among the elite marching band.

"[The] FAMU Board of Trustees negligently failed to properly supervise, train, discipline and control the FAMU band," the lawsuit alleges.

Champion, 26, was a member of the college's famed "Marching 100" band when he collapsed and died Nov. 19 on a bus parked outside an Orlando hotel after a football game.

"[The] FAMU Board of Trustees knew or in the exercise of due care should have known that hazing of FAMU Band members would continue taking place in the 2011 band season unless drastic action was taken to prevent it," the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit also claims that FAMU Dean of Students Henry Kirby "recommended suspension of the FAMU band, which was ignored just three days prior to the subject incident."

Since FAMU is a state institution, Florida law required the Champion family to wait at least six months before taking legal action against the school, according to Christopher Chestnut, the Champion family's attorney.

The suit includes five counts--three wrongful death counts, a negligence count and a liability count. FAMU's board of trustees is charged with one of the wrongful death counts. The other wrongful death counts are against the bus company Fabulous Coach and Wendy Millette, the bus driver.

Chestnut said his clients have been feeling "melancholy" and "kind of lethargic" this week because July 13 would have been their son's 27th birthday.

"They're still distraught," Chestnut told ABCNews.com. "Friday is his birthday. You never get over losing a child. Every day they wake up and walk past his room and they're reminded of him."

The Champions traveled from their home in Georgia to Orlando today to file the lawsuit. Chestnut said the long-awaited filing is the beginning of a process for justice and answers for his clients.

"It will get answers. We really haven't gotten answers," Chestnut said. "I think what is that is most inspiring them to file this lawsuit is we need answers."

Answers could help the Champions begin to heal, Chestnut said.

"I don't know that you ever get closure, especially considering the brutality of Robert's murder," Chestnut said. "But it is making a lot of proactive efforts to emotionally reconcile their feelings and [eventually] change the tradition of hazing."

The lawsuit seeks monetary compensation for the Champion family for reasons including "past and future mental pain and suffering," "past and future loss of decedent's support and services," and expenses from medical care and funeral arrangements.

Chestnut does not know how much money the Champions could receive from the suit. "A jury will have to come up with that number," he said.

Chestnut and the Champions spoke at a press conference outside the Orange County Courthouse on Wednesday afternoon.

When asked about Ammons' resignation, Chestnut said he was not aware of the details of the resignation or if it was related to the hazing incident.

"The focus isn't on denigrating FAMU," he said. "Obviously the president has stepped own, [and] perhaps that means there's a brighter day at FAMU. We applaud the changes."

Robert Champion Sr. echoed Chestnut's approval.

" I believe that we have to clean the house and start from the top and clean all the way to the bottom," he said.

"Our whole goal here is to make sure no one else has to go through what we've gone through and in order to do that there needs to be some accountability," Pamela Champion said.

She denounced the practice of hazing and said there is "no need" for it.

"Let's eradicate hazing across the board," she said. "We need everybody walking to the same drumbeat."

Chestnut said prosecutors are "vigorously prosecuting the case" and that the addition of more defendants is possible as the case progresses.

Thirteen FAMU band members have been charged in relation to Champion's death. Eleven of the band members face felony hazing charges and the other two face misdemeanor hazing charges. The defendants have pleaded not guilty.

In May, over 2,000 pages of evidence from the investigation into Champion's death were released by the Florida District Attorney's Office, which delivered a blow-by-blow of the events from the night of Robert Champion's death.

Champion endured a lethal pummeling down the aisle of a pitch-black bus that rocked from the force of the violence inside, according to the documents.

Champion struggled, with a female band member holding him back to prolong the punishment, through a gauntlet of band mates who used their fists, feet, straps and sticks to pound him into unconsciousness.

Chestnut and the Champions are scheduled to speak at a press conference outside the Orange County Courthouse on Wednesday afternoon.

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