- Associated Press - Monday, May 14, 2012

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Florida A&M University’s famed marching band is being suspended for at least one more school year as officials try to cleanse the hazing culture that led to the death of a drum major, the school’s president said Monday.

FAMU President James Ammons said the Marching 100 should stay off the field at least until a new band director is hired and new rules for the band have been adopted.

Eleven FAMU band members face felony charges in the November hazing death of drum major Robert Champion, while two others face misdemeanor counts. The band has been banned from performing since soon after Champion died, and band director Julian White recently retired after it was revealed that at least 100 band members were not students at the time of Champion’s death.

“As president, my goal is to implement the best conditions we can to create a safe environment so teaching, learning and research can take place,” Mr. Ammons said.

Mr. Ammons was already under pressure from many state officials — including Gov. Rick Scott — to keep the Marching 100 sidelined until other ongoing investigations into the band are completed.

The Marching 100 has a rich history, performing at Super Bowls and in inauguration parades. The band has been one of the main draws during FAMU football games, and some board members on Monday wanted to know if the decision to keep the band off the field until 2013 would impact ticket sales.

But several trustees told Mr. Ammons on Monday that they supported his decision to keep the band suspended. Champion’s death was just one of several hazing incidents in the past year.

Aaron Golson, who was charged this month in the Champion case, previously had been charged with battery and hazing for allegedly beating band member Bria Hunter to initiate her into the “Red Dawg Order” — a band clique for students who come from Georgia. Mr. Golson initially pleaded not guilty in the Hunter case, but his attorney announced Monday that Mr. Golson would change his plea later this week. It was not clear if he would plead no contest or guilty.

Mr. Ammons tried to fire Mr. White last November, but the dismissal was placed on hold while the criminal investigation unfolded. Mr. White insisted that he had done nothing wrong and fought for months to get reinstated.

That changed last week after Mr. Ammons reported to trustees that three of those charged in Champion’s death weren’t FAMU students at the time.

Meanwhile, state authorities continue to investigate the band’s finances.

Frank Brogan, the chancellor of the State University System of Florida, wrote a blunt letter last week urging Mr. Ammons to keep the band suspended while the investigations continue. The state university system has its own probe into whether FAMU officials ignored past warnings about hazing.

Pam Champion, the mother of Robert Champion, has said that the band should be disbanded so the university can “clean house.”

Chris Chestnut, an attorney for the Champion family, said the family was “relieved” by the decision to keep the suspension intact for another year.

“The family is a huge supporter of the band and the institution of FAMU, but they have grave concerns about the safety of students in that band, due to the lack of rules and regulations, supervision and oversight,” Mr. Chestnut said. “I think they are somewhat relieved. They are disappointed that all of this could have been avoided if FAMU had paid attention to what was going on in that band for the last few years.”

The Champion family already has told FAMU they plan to sue the university.

FAMU began making some changes following Champion’s death — including a new regulation requiring those attending, visiting or working at the school to tell police within 24 hours about any hazing incidents.

Mr. Ammons said Monday that the university is looking at new rules for the band, including academic standards for band members, limits on eligibility and an increase in the number of adults who must accompany the band on out-of-town trips. Champion died on a band bus outside an Orlando hotel.

FAMU set up a task force to look at hazing, although the panel has not met since a flare-up over whether it should follow the state’s open-meetings laws. Several members have since resigned.

Associated Press writer Mike Schneider contributed to this report.

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