Parents of Hazing Victim 'Appalled' FAMU Blames Son for His Own Death
Florida A&M University denies responsibility for the drum major's hazing death.
Sept. 11, 2012 — -- The parents of hazing victim Robert Champion are "appalled" that Florida A&M University is insisting in court papers that their son was responsible for his own beating death during a hazing incident at the school.
"It's startling that they would blame the victim for his own death," Champion family attorney Christopher Chestnut told ABCNews.com today. "FAMU is pointing the finger at everyone else but themselves, including their own students."
Chestnut said that Champion's parents Robert and Pamela Champion are "appalled" by the university's claim, but that they're "more committed than ever" to abolishing the culture of hazing at the school.
"Arguably, part of the reason the culture still exists is because the blame has always been on anyone except for the institution, by the institution," Chestnut said. "FAMU is always blaming other people, never taking responsibility."
The university filed a motion on Monday night to dismiss Champion's parents' wrongful death lawsuit against the school.
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.
FAMU claims that the hazing occurred after Champion was "relieved of his responsibilities" as a band member and had already gone back to his room and changed out of his band uniform.
"No, he was on the clock," Chestnut said. "This is a school sanctioned event. It's in a bus they chartered, at a hotel they designated for him to stay at exclusively with members and staff of this institution."
The university's motion also points out that Champion signed a "Hazing and Harassment Agreement" months before his death in which he acknowledged understanding the "dangers of participating in hazing, either as a hazer or a hazee."
"It is undisputed that Mr. Champion knew that existence of the danger (hazing) of which Plaintiff now complains, he realized and appreciated the possibility of injuries as a result of such danger, and notwithstanding the opportunity to avoid the danger simply by not showing up at the designated place and time, he deliberately exposed himself to the danger," the motion said.
Chestnut called the reference to the signed agreement a "tongue-in-cheek" move by the school.
"Everyone signed that agreement, but they also knew that unless you were hazed, you weren't accepted," he said.
The school called the other band members on the bus "Mr. Champion's co-conspirators" and said there was no allegation or evidence that Champion reported the hazing event or tried to stop anyone from participating.
"Florida's sovereign immunity bars Plaintiff's claim against FAMU because Mr. Champion agreed, conspired, combined or confederated with others to do unlawful acts, and encouraged, requested or helped cause others to commit such unlawful acts."
The filing said that even if one assumes that Champion did not commit any crimes in relation to the hazing, he at least "participated as a hazee."
The motion also cites the sworn statement given by band mate Keon Hollis who was also hazed the night of Champion's death.
After Hollis and Champion changed out of their band uniforms and returned to the hotel following the football game, Hollis said Champion asked him if we was going to "cross the bus," which is how they referred to the hazing ritual that took place on a bus.