At least five people will face criminal charges in the hazing death of a Florida A&M University drum major aboard a band bus in Orlando last fall, authorities said Tuesday.
Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings told the Associated Press that multiple defendants will be charged in 26-year-old Robert Champion's death, although he refused to say what the charges are.
Prosecutors have built five cases against defendants with charges ranging from misdemeanors to felony charges, said Danielle Tavernier, a spokeswoman for the State Attorney's Office in Orlando. She refused to specify the charges pending an announcement by prosecutors today.
The pending charges will bring more scrutiny to a culture of hazing at FAMU and other schools. Champion's death was ruled a homicide by medical examiners, and the case has jeopardized the future of FAMU's legendary marching band and shaken the school's Tallahassee campus.
"The family's position is if indeed there are charges tomorrow, it's been a long time in coming," Christopher Chestnut, an attorney for Champion's parents, said Tuesday evening. "It is bittersweet. Obviously it's comforting to know that someone will be held accountable for Robert's murder, but it's also disconcerting to think of the impact of the future of these students. This is just unfortunate all the way around."
The medical examiner's office in Orlando found last year that Champion had bruises to his chest, arms, shoulder and back and internal bleeding that caused him to go into shock, which killed him.
Detectives say Champion was hazed on Nov. 19 by other band members on a bus parked outside an Orlando hotel, following a performance.
Witnesses told emergency dispatchers that Champion was vomiting before he was found unresponsive aboard the bus.
FAMU has suspended the band and launched a task force to recommend steps it could take to curtail hazing.
Three FAMU band members were arrested in the Oct. 31 beating of a female band member whose thigh was broken.
And on Tuesday, a lawyer for two FAMU music professors who allegedly were present during the unrelated hazing of band fraternity pledges in early 2010 said they have been forced out.
Both faculty members had been placed on paid administrative leave in late March after a Tallahassee Police Department report quoted witnesses as saying they were on hand when the hazing occurred at the home of one of the professors.