Thirteen people were criminally charged on Wednesday with hazing in the death of a Florida A&M University marching band member who was beaten after a football game last fall.
Of those charged in the death of the band member, Robert Champion, 11 were charged with felonies and two with misdemeanors, said Lawson Lamar, the state attorney for the 9th Judicial Circuit of Florida, in a news conference in Orlando.
More than 20 people will also face misdemeanor charges in the hazing of other students at Florida A&M, he said.
“Hazing is something that will continue to happen out of sight until a student like Robert Champion pays the ultimate price,” Lamar said.
Police officers across the state are working to arrest the suspects, who have not been identified. A charge of felony hazing carries up to six years in prison.
The case, which turned the country’s attention to hazing within elite marching bands, grew out of a beating that Champion, 26, received in Orlando on Nov. 19 after a football game against a rival school, Bethune-Cookman University.
Prosecutors said Champion was beaten, kicked and suffocated by fellow band members during a hazing ritual aboard a bus.
Under a tradition known as “Crossing Bus C,” students would walk down the aisle of the bus while classmates punched them. Champion was found lifeless on the bus and pronounced dead at a hospital.
Florida passed a strict anti-hazing law in 2005 after a college student drowned during a fraternity event. The law makes it easier for prosecutors to treat hazing as a felony.
The Champion family had hoped for the state to bring murder or manslaughter charges, their lawyer, Christopher Chestnut said.
“This is bittersweet for them,” he said. “They were hoping for more severe charges.”
Chestnut said he planned to sue the university and possibly the band director. The family has already sued the company that owns the bus, saying the driver stood by while hazing took place.
The university said in a statement that it was working to prevent another tragedy. It has formed an anti-hazing committee and designated a US$50,000 grant for faculty members to research the nature and extent of hazing on campus.
His parents say Champion was beaten so severely because he had voiced concerns about the band’s hazing culture. They also say he was bullied because he was gay.
Since Champion’s death, Florida A&M has faced a series of reports of abuse and hazing.
In December last year, three band members were arrested and charged with beating a female classmate so severely that her thigh was broken.
The university has suspended the band and said it might not perform during this fall’s football season.