Family of FAMU hazing arrestee speaks out
Updated On: May 03 2012 05:10:15 PM EDT
Five people have been arrested Thursday in the hazing death of Florida A&M University drum major Robert Champion, bringing the total number of arrests to seven.
Brian Jones, 23, of Parrish, was arrested on felony hazing charges in Hillsborough County. He was released after posting $15,000 bond.
Jones was at a news conference on Thursday with his attorney and parents in Orlando. Jones didn't speak, but his attorney and his mother defended his character.
"Brian is a good kid. Brian’s never been arrested till yesterday. He’s never had any police contact," said attorney Alisia Adamson. Adamson said Jones was a deacon at his church, played drums in the church band and mentored children at church. He also had dreams of joining the military.
"On behalf of my family, including Brian, we are very devastated as a result of this incident," said Jones' mother Jacquelin Jones. "We have raised our son to do the right thing. He is from a disciplined home where he knows right from wrong."
Adamson asked for the public to let the judicial process take its course.
"We ask you give him that fair opportunity to be heard when the time comes in a fair manner," Jacquelin Jones said.
Later Thursday, Jesse Baskin 20, and Benjamin McNamee, 21, were arrested and taken to the Miami-Dade County Jail. Shawn Turner, 26, was arrested in Gadsen County, and Harold Finley, 20, was arrested in Hillsborough County. All have been charged with one count of felony hazing. Baskin, McNamee and Turner posted $15,000 bond.
On Wednesday, Caleb Jackson, 23, and Rikki Wills, 24, were arrested on felony hazing charges and taken to the Leon County Jail.
All seven turned themselves in to authorities.
A judge on Thursday refused to let Jackson leave jail because he's on probation for battery. Jasmine Alexander, who said she's the mother of a 3-year-old with Jackson and engaged to him, pleaded with the judge, saying Jackson is the only source of income for their family.
Wells was allowed to leave jail Wednesday night after posting $15,000 bond.
Thirteen people face charges in the Champion's death, 11 of whom will be charged with hazing resulting in death, a third-degree felony, according to Ninth Judicial Circuit State Attorney Lawson Lamar said at a news conference on Wednesday.
If the defendant doesn't have a prior record, the maximum punishment is six years, Lamar said. The other two will be charged with a first-degree misdemeanor charge of hazing.
"We won't release specifics and names of the charged because they're still at large," said Lamar, who added that once they have been arrested, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement will release their names.
Officials did release a list of defendant charges, labeling each person as "Defendant A" or "Defendant B."
More than 20 counts of misdemeanor hazing will also be charged, which involved different victims who were not seriously injured, Lamar said.
Detectives say Champion was hazed by other band members following a performance against a rival school on Nov. 19, 2011. Witnesses told emergency dispatchers Champion was vomiting before he was found unresponsive aboard a bus.
The medical examiner's office in Orlando ruled that Champion had bruises to his chest, arms, shoulder and back and internal bleeding that caused him to go into shock, which killed him.
"We know Robert Champion died as a result of being beaten. His death is not linked to one sole strike but attributed to several blows," Lamar said. "The death of Florida A&M University student Robert Champion is nothing short of an American tragedy."
Lamar said because Champion died from multiple blows from multiple people and not one fatal hit, the charges are less severe.
"The testimony obtained to date does not support a charge of murder," Lamar said.
The parents of Champion said Tuesday they are thankful the case is moving forward. The family's attorney said Pam and Robert Champion Sr. have waited months for charges but were disappointed when they got the news. There were 30 people on the bus, but 11 are charged with felony hazing.
"Third degree felony, child's murdered its just not adding up for them so this is a tough day for them," said Champion family attorney Chris Chestnut. "Their reaction is devastation. I think they were looking for a more appropriate sanction for the murder of their child."
Since Champion's death, FAMU and other schools have been under intense scrutiny about how they handle complaints of hazing.
"No one could have expected his college experience would have consisted of being pummeled to death," Lamar said.
FAMU released a statement from Solomon Badger, Chair of FAMU Board of Trustees, and James H. Ammons, President of FAMU saying:
"We are vigorously working to eradicate hazing from FAMU and doing everything within our power to ensure an incident like this never happens again. Our hearts and our prayers are with the Champion family and the extended FAMU family as we all continue to deal with this tragedy."
According to the release, FAMU said it has taken "significant steps" to end hazing, including:
- Indefinite suspension of the FAMU Marching Band and cancellation of 2012 FAMU Summer Band Camp for High School Students. The suspension is still in place and the status of the band is under review.
- Suspension of induction, enrollment, initiation, membership intake and recruitment for all student clubs and organizations until the Fall 2012.
- Amending FAMU anti-hazing regulations to include a 24-hour reporting rule for faculty, staff and students, as well as a provision against retaliation.
- Formation of an independent FAMU Anti-Hazing Committee comprised of noted national experts from relevant fields to provide valuable research and insight to the FAMU Board of Trustees on ways to end and prevent hazing.
- Announcement of Florida A&M University Anti-Hazing Research Initiative, a $50,000 grant for faculty members to conduct research that will study the nature and extent of hazing behaviors among campus organizations and groups.
- Multiple mandatory campus wide Anti-Hazing safety forums that have been attended by thousands of students and faculty, fostered important dialogue and encouraged students to sign an anti-hazing pledge.
- Real-time communication with FAMU constituents and supporters on zero tolerance for hazing and developments.
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