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Robert Champion was to blame for his own hazing death, FAMU says

September 11, 2012|By Michael Muskal

Florida A&M University is not responsible for the death of drum major Robert Champion, who -- as an adult -- must bear responsibility for his decision to undergo the hazing ritualthat led to his death, the university argues in a response to a wrongful death suit in the case.

In papers filed Monday night, the school maintains that Champion, 26, was legally responsible for his own death. He was beaten in November by other members of the Marching 100, the university’s famed band, during a hazing rite. Champion died after a football game in a charter bus parked outside an Orlando hotel.

Twelve former members of the group have been charged with felonies in the case, which also led to the forced retirement of the band’s director and later the departure of the president of the school, Florida’s only public, historically black university.

“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 document prepared by Richard E. Mitchell, an attorney with the GrayRobinson law firm hired by FAMU.

The university argues that Champion chose to participate in the hazing to impress other members of the group.

“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,” according to the motion filed in  Orange County Circuit Court.

Champion’s family initially sued the bus driver and the charter company; it added the university in July, on the day that university President James Ammons announced he was stepping down amid criticism over the hazing scandals and other issues.

Champion family attorney Christopher Chestnut said Monday night that he was shocked by the filing.

“We cannot ignore the irony and audacity of an institution in blaming Robert for his death,” Chestnut told the Orlando Sentinel.  “Blaming students for hazing allows the culture of hazing to become deadly.”

The university is asking the court to throw out the wrongful death suit or at least delay it until the criminal cases are resolved.

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Join Michael on Google+. Email: michael.muskal@latimes.com

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