FAMU Band Director: Champion looked like he had passed out | News
ATLANTA -- For the first time since the death of Florida A&M drum major Robert Champion, band director Dr. Julian White is giving more details about what happened that day.
11Alive's Blayne Alexander is the only Atlanta reporter to speak with Dr. White. During the interview, he described the moments after Champion collapsed.
"I happened to be in the parking lot going to dinner," Dr. White said. "I saw the police and paramedics arriving and followed them and that's when I saw that Robert was laying on the bus. He looked like an individual who had passed out."
Dr. White said he did not immediately ask students what happened, as he was focused on getting Champion to the hospital.
When pressed for details about what physically happened to Champion, Dr. White was reluctant to comment further. "What [the students] did, I don't know," he said. "I think that is something that is part of the ongoing investigation."
On Nov. 19, Champion, a Decatur native, collapsed on a bus. Witnesses say he was vomiting and complaining he couldn't breathe. He later died at Dr. Phillips Hospital in Orlando.
Orange County investigators later announced hazing was likely involved in his death.
Last week, Dr. White received notice from Florida A&M University that he would be terminated. He is appealing, saying the decision was made prematurely. "I believe there could have been more thought in the process and even waiting until the completion of the investigation," he said, adding that he believed some decisions were "reactionary."
During Dr. White's tenure, two students have filed lawsuits, claiming they were hazed.
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In 1998, Ivery Luckey sued the Florida Board of Regents, saying he was paddled more than 300 times in one night, leading to temporary kidney failure. He later received a $50,000 settlement.
Marcus Parker also sued in 2001, after he was hospitalized following a hazing incident.
"In all cases where I suspect there's hazing involved, I take immediate action," Dr. White said. "My job is to report it to the proper authorities, which in this case is the university police department, and that I have done."
Over the years, Dr. White said he has taken an active stand against hazing, enforcing a "zero tolerance" policy and promising any students suspected of hazing would be suspended from the Marching 100. He also held workshops for students to talk about the consequences of hazing.
In a news conference Monday, Dr. White said he often felt "out there by [himself]," dealing with hazing, and that university officials should have done more with his reports.
"I did submit the names of students to university authorities and I did suspend them from the marching band," Dr. White said. "If it goes to the police station, it would be up to them to determine what happens afterwards. At that point, it is out of my hands because they are no longer participating in the marching band."
The fallout from Champion's death has spread across the FAMU community.
University president Dr. James Ammons suspended the Marching 100 "indefinitely," also forming an internal task force to look into "unauthorized activities" within the band.
Meanwhile, Florida Governor Rick Scott has called for a federal investigation into Champion's death and Tuesday, Florida University System officials announced they will conduct their own investigation into whether school officials ignored reports of hazing.
Several days after Champion's death, 11Alive spoke to the parents of Bria Hunter, a freshman clarinet player in the Marching 100. Her parents said she was hospitalized due to hazing, only two weeks before Champion's death.
Hunter suffered a fractured thighbone and a ruptured knee.
Madison and Kimberly Hunter said when they told Dr. White what had happened, he took action immediately. In all, 26 band members were suspended, some in connection with Bria Hunter's case.
Dr. White said he submitted the names of those involved to Dr. Ammons and FAMU Police. Tallahassee Police Department is also investigating.
Dr. White is a former band member himself, and served as drum major. He said during his time in the Marching 100, students did not participate in hazing.