TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) _ Florida's top law enforcement agency wants Florida A&M University and the Board of Governors to hold off on any disciplinary action following the death of a school band member so they don't interfere with its criminal investigation into reports that hazing preceded the musician's death.
Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Gerald Bailey sent a three-paragraph letter Friday to FAMU President James Ammons and Chancellor Frank Brogan noting that “objective, investigative activities have been initiated'' by law enforcement authorities. He said the inadvertent release of any information related to the case could have an adverse effect on the investigation's results.
Drum major Robert Champion, 26, was found unresponsive on Nov. 19 on a bus parked outside an Orlando hotel after a football game. His death sparked a criminal investigation into whether FAMU officials have ignored past warnings about hazing.
Ammons had already expelled four students believed to been connected to the tragedy and fired longtime band director Julian White. The school's famed “Marching 100'' band was also suspended for an indefinite period from any future activities.
White added prominent South Florida trial lawyer Willie Gary on Friday to serve as co-counsel with Tallahassee attorney Chuck Hobbs in an effort to regain his position at Florida A&M. White contends he repeatedly told university officials about problems with hazing.
Hours before Bailey's letter, Ammons said he was suspending the activities of a task force he formed last week, a decision applauded by Gov. Rick Scott.
The governor called Champion's death “horrible'' and said state leaders must work to ensure that a similar incident never happens again.
“You send your child to college. You expect them to come back,'' Scott said. You don't expect something to happen to them. This stuff has to be so infuriating as a parent.''
Scott's comments came while a group of black Tallahassee ministers held a news conference to announce formation of a task force charged with battling hazing at all historically black colleges and universities.
“We are aware that hazing has been ingrained, ingrained and ingrained into the culture,'' said the Rev. R.B. Holmes, pastor of the Bethel Missionary Baptist Church in Tallahassee. “At this point, to be able to respect and honor the legacy of Robert Champion, we must come together to make sure there will never be another Robert Champion will die this kind of way. Morally and spiritually it's time for us to take the high road. It is a moral issue, a spiritual issue. We're talking about it from a spiritual process. Jesus was hazed on Calvary.''
The group also announced plans for a community-wide prayer service at noon on Dec. 7. Some of the members of the task force include presidents at four HBCUs, including South Carolina State University, Edward Waters College and Florida Memorial University.
Ammons is among the scheduled speakers at a forum for students on Monday organized by the Student Government Association.
“In order for us to move on, we must address the problem of hazing by collectively committing to the eradication of hazing on our campus,'' SGA President Breyon Love said Friday.
Love said he wants every student on campus to sign an anti-hazing agreement that he will have available at the meeting and that clubs and organizations that fail to participate risk being sanctioned by the SGA and Student Activities Office.