Judge Won't Rule Yet on Hazing Death Lawsuit against FAMU

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An attorney for the parents of a Florida A&M University drum major who died after being hazed told a judge Friday that their negligence lawsuit against the school should proceed since university officials failed in their duty to ensure the welfare of students. But the school's attorney said school officials didn't know hazing was taking place.

After hearing arguments from both sides, Circuit Judge Donald Myers said he needs time to decide whether the lawsuit should go to a jury trial or be dismissed.

"These are not simple issues," Myers said at the end of a hearing that lasted more than hour.

Drum major Robert Champion died after band members pummeled him with fists and mallets aboard a bus parked outside an Orlando hotel in November 2011. The hazing ritual, known as "Crossing Bus C," was carried out after FAMU band members had performed at an annual football game with rival, Bethune-Cookman University, known as "The Florida Classic."

Despite warnings that hazing was still taking place among band members, and despite efforts by university officials to suspend hazing participants, the officials failed to take proper measures to stop the hazing, said Kenneth Bell, the Champions' attorney.

Officials at the Tallahassee-based school could have implemented a curfew for band members while they were in Orlando but didn't, he said.

"They didn't carry out their duty properly and that's a question for the jury," Bell said.

But the school's attorney said that 26-year-old Champion, of Decatur, Georgia, voluntarily participated in the hazing and that university officials didn't know it was going on.

"That stretches the legal duty too far," said Richard Mitchell, an attorney for FAMU. "We don't have a duty to protect Mr. Champion from himself."

Fifteen former band members were charged with Champion's death.

His family previously reached a settlement with the bus owners.