Pam and Robert Champion Sr. said at a news conference in Atlanta that they were disappointed by court documents filed Monday by FAMU in response to their lawsuit against the school. The university said in its filing that 26-year-old Robert Champion, as a top leader in the band, should have refused to participate in the ritual. The school asked a judge to toss the lawsuit or at least to delay action on it until criminal charges against band members are resolved. Twelve former members have pleaded not guilty to charges of felony hazing.
“As a mother, I have to wonder what kind of people are we entrusting our students to,” Pam Champion said. “They clearly didn’t care about my son, who thought the world of this school, who would always promote it and talk it up. Robert did all the right things. The school didn’t do him right.”
Her husband called the school’s response a “slap in the face.”
“This is an opportunity for the school to say ‘we do have problems and we’re going to fix it,’ but instead they’re in denial, so I say FAMU beware,” he said.
Robert Champion died in November after he was beaten by fellow members of the famed Marching 100 band aboard a charter bus parked outside an Orlando hotel. The school said in its filing that no public university or college has a duty to protect an adult student from what happens as a result of that person’s own decisions to participate in dangerous activities off campus and outside of university-sponsored events.
“FAMU is not ‘blaming’ anyone for this tragic loss; rather, the university has asked the court to decide the legal question of whether Florida’s taxpayers can be held financially liable to Mr. Champion’s Estate according to the facts of the case as detailed in the pleadings and exhibits of record,” Richard Mitchell, an attorney with the GrayRobinson law firm hired by FAMU, wrote in an email Monday.
Chris Chestnut, a lawyer representing the Champions, said the school is refusing to address the root problem.
“FAMU wants to make this about Robert Champion. The Champions have lost their son. This is about the decades of hazing that led up to Robert’s death and the decades beyond this point where there’s an opportunity for FAMU to rid itself of hazing and still have a very successful band program.”
The lawsuit was filed by the Champions, who live in suburban Atlanta. University trustees had discussed trying to mediate the lawsuit, but the school’s response this week may have doomed that effort. Chestnut said the lawsuit needs to go forward so the school is held accountable.