Caleb Jackson, Rikki Willis, and 13 others were charged in Tallahassee, Florida in connection to the November death of Robert Champion, sources indicate. Jackson, 23, and Willis, 24, were both booked at Leon County Jail on Wednesday on charges of a hazing resulting in death. Law enforcement officials reportedly declined to release the rest of the names of the defendants, who face the same charges as Willis and Jackson, until after they are arrested. If convicted, the defendants could face up to six years’ incarceration. It is not clear whether any of them has retained a private criminal defense lawyer.
Robert Champion’s death drew international headlines because Champion, a drum major of the Marching 100, was allegedly killed in an act of hazing. Hazing, the practice of abusing new members of a group (such as a college fraternity) as a rite of passage, reportedly has a long history in the Marching 100, and several other alleged incidents involving serious injury were reported before and after Champion’s death.
The Marching 100 is Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University’s marching band. The group, often hailed as one of the best in the country, is famous for appearances as high-profile events such as the Super Bowl, presidential inaugurations, and the Grammys.
On November 19, 2011, Champion had just gotten done performing with the band at a football game when he was physically assaulted on a charter bus outside of an Orlando, Florida hotel. Witness reportedly told investigators that Champion was beaten with a paddle and was vomiting before becoming unresponsive. The autopsy reportedly revealed that Champion died of “hemorrhagic shock due to soft tissue hemorrhage, due to blunt force trauma” as well as blood loss and that he died less than an hour after the attack.
The charges reportedly came as a result of an investigation that involved interviewing over a dozed FAMU students, many of whom admitted having undergone hazing themselves. The beating that Champion received, investigators reportedly learned, was a form of hazing known as “Crossing Bus C,” in which new band members are forced to run down a bus aisle while being beaten by band members on either side of the aisle. Before the charges were announced, four FAMU students, whose names were not released, were reportedly expelled for their alleged participation in the hazing.
The Marching 100 has been hit with hazing charges before and since Champion’s death. One involved Bria Shane Hunter, who is currently suing FAMU for damages after she was allegedly beaten so badly during a December hazing incident that her thigh bone was broken. Three members of the Marching 100, Sean Hobson, Aaron Golson, and James Harris, were reportedly arrested in connection to her beating and are currently undergoing prosecution.
FAMU is reportedly taking steps to prevent future hazing incidents from occurring. “There have been significant steps taken by FAMU in the past five months, with the singular goal to end hazing,” announced FAMU’s president in a recent written statement.