Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Florida university slammed for defense in hazing death case

Florida university slammed for defense in hazing death case
By Barbara Liston
Sep 11, 2012

(Reuters) - The family of a Florida A&M University drum major killed in a brutal hazing ritual is "appalled" by the university's claim that the student was responsible for his own death, their lawyer said on Tuesday.

"We are appalled at the audacity of this institution to blame this murder on the victim," said Christopher Chestnut, lawyer for the parents of drum major Robert Champion Jr.

He spoke in reaction to the motion lawyers for Florida A&M filed in Orange County Circuit Court on Monday, when they called for dismissal of the Champion family's wrongful death lawsuit.

The motion said the 26-year-old Champion volunteered to be hazed, in a bid to gain respect from fellow band members, and thus was responsible for his own death.

"Robert Champion, Jr. expressly assumed the risk of the hazing injuries that caused his death," wrote FAMU lawyer Richard Mitchell, in the bluntly worded court filing on Monday.

FAMU also argues that Champion, by submitting to hazing, was an active participant in a forcible felony which makes his family ineligible to win a lawsuit against the university.

"No Florida public university or college has a legal duty to protect an adult student from the result of their own decision to participate in a dangerous crime while off-campus and after retiring from university-sponsored events, as Robert Champion, Jr. did here," Mitchell said.

Chestnut, however, said the issue was not Champion's age but peer group pressure and the university's internal culture.

"There are cultural pressures within the college that is allowed here that basically facilitate this culture. For you to succeed and thrive, part of being in college and in the band is being accepted," Chestnut said.

The university has acknowledged that hazing was a longstanding problem in the band, but Chestnut said it was important to note that Champion was the first band member killed by the ritual.

"Anyone in a hazing has the expectation that I may get hurt but no one expects to be killed...

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