[UPDATE]: Documents: Champion Wanted to be Hazed

By: Eyewitness News Email
By: Eyewitness News Email

The Ritual of "Crossing Over"

May 24, 2012 by Julie Montanaro

A painful picture of hazing within FAMU's Marching 100 is emerging from hundreds of documents and interviews released this week.

Robert Champion died after going through a ritual called "crossing over," but he wasn't the only one to "cross over" the weekend of the Florida Classic.

Interviews indicate as many as five more band members may have done it that trip, and two did it the very same night.

Band members say it's a tradition on board bus C. Many of them have been forced to describe "crossing over " in painful detail now that it cost drum major Robert Champion his life.

"You take your shirt off and you basically have to make it from the front of the bus to the back of the bus," fellow band member Keon Hollis told police.

Hollis took his turn "crossing over" right before Champion did. He described being hit. punched, kicked and struck with drum sticks, all while pushing his way through a tangle of people to touch the back wall.

"I had just finished. I was in the back trying to regain myself, my composure because I was out of it myself. I was really weak, kind of like out of breath," Hollis said.

"Did you get any injuries?"

"No. I didn't get any injuries, just a couple of back problems, like just pains, but not like severe.

"Do you know who threw up in the parking lot?"

"I threw up in the parking lot," Hollis said.

Lisette Sanchez was the first to cross over that night in November.

"How long were you going through?

"Long time, I don't even know," Sanchez told police.

"Two grown men, like six feet tall, threw up. How did you feel after you were done?"

"I was like unconscious basically."

"The only reason I think he (Champion) died is because he didn't have enough time to breathe. When I finished, I almost had a panic attack ... because it gets really hot and you start not being able to breath towards the back," Sanchez said.

Among the items on the Orange County Sheriff's evidence list were hazing and harrassment agreements signed by members of the band.

Of the six who reportedly "crossed over" during the Florida Classic weekend, five appear to have signed agreements acknowledging the university's anti-hazing policy, including Robert Champion.
May 24, 2012 by Julie Montanaro

The vast majority of viewers who voted in our WCTV poll of the day Thursday said Marching 100 members should be held responsible for the death of drum major Robert Champion even if he consented to the hazing.

The vote was 88% to 12%.

That is despite claims by the head drum major Champion wanted to go through with a ritual called "crossing over." Head drum major Jonathan Boyce claims Champion wanted to "cross over" all season long.

Champion's parents say they can't believe their son would volunteer to be hazed.

Florida's hazing law doesn't care if he consented to it or not.

That may have been a factor had prosecutors pursued murder or manslaughter charges, but under Florida's new hazing laws, prosecutors say, consent is irrelevant.

Prosecutor Frank Allman wouldn't comment on the specifics of this case, but did comment on the legalities and logistics of prosecuting a hazing case.

"In the case of a death, no one can consent to be killed, but the statute exempts the victim's consent from the hazing statute. So in other words, if I'm going through some sort of hazing ritual, and I consent to be paddled or branded or forced to consume an abundance of alcohol ... even if I agree to it, that's not a defense to the crime of hazing," Allman said.

May 23, 2012 -- by Lanetra Bennett

Newly released documents say Robert Champion wanted to be hazed. The information released today paints the clearest picture yet of what happened the night the FAMU drum major was hazed to death.

Eyewitness News Reporter Lanetra Bennett has been going through the documents all day and has more.

In his deposition, defendant Jonathan Boyce told investigators that Robert Champion had been asking to take part in what's known as the "Bus C crossing over" hazing ritual all season.

Boyce, who was the head drum major, says he finally gave Champion the okay, but says he tried to save him on the night Champion was beaten to death.

FAMU Marching 100 drum major Robert Champion died after a hazing ritual on a charter bus parked in an Orlando hotel parking lot.
During an interview released Wednesday, the head drum major, Jonathan Boyce told investigators he tried to "save" Champion from "crossing over" the night of November 19th...

Crossing over is when a band member walks from the front of the bus to the back of the bus while other band members hit and kick them.

Once the person touches the back wall, it's over.

Boyce says when he made it to the bus, Champion was already about a foot or two away from the back.

"I grab him to try to keep everybody off him. I grab him and I'm pulling him. I see people kicking him. So I stop them from kicking him and I put my body around his body and I'm just pulling."

Boyce says Champion said he was okay at the end, but moments later, he says Champion couldn't breathe or see, and he eventually passed out.

"Did anybody try to talk him into it or talk him out of it. He was wanting to do it all season."

Pam Champion, Robert Champion's mother, says, "They know that this is not something that my son would agree to do. So, you have to consider the source of the information that you're getting."

About 1500 pages of documents were released today. Those can be viewed by clicking on the icon titled Hazing Death Case Files which can be found above.


UPDATED 5.23.2012 by Julie Montanaro

The documents released Wednesday shed new light on hazing rituals within the Marching 100.

Band members indicated in their interviews that Robert Champion was one of three people who "crossed over" the night of the Florida Classic and three others may have done so the night before after the Battle of the Bands.

Crossing over is a hazing ritual in which a band member must walk from the front of the bus to the back while fellow band members pummel them and kick them.

Band member Ryan Dean told law enforcement officers that after crossing over you're "extremely exhausted, like you've run miles and miles."

Other band members went through a hazing ritual called "the hot seat" that weekend.

Several band members indicated that members were subjected to the "hot seat" in the back of the bus while the bus was en route back to the hotel.

One band member said there was a staff member sitting in the front of the bus while this was going on.

Several band members described the hot seat as a warm up for "crossing over."

Marching 100 member Kerian Cox described it this way in his interview with police:

"Sit in a crouch, hands behind your neck or your head, and they put a blanket over you and then you just get hit. "

"How many times?"

"Can't even count," Cox said.

Band member Evan Calhoun described the hot seat as "playing cadences on your back." It hurts, he said, "but it's tolerable."

Several band members indicated that the bus president - who is the oldest member of the band - decides who gets the hot seat and for how long.

Once members cross over, they said, they don't need to worry about being tapped on the shoulder and being subjected to the hot seat anymore.


ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — May 23, 2012 - 2:50pm

A Florida A&M drum major who died after being hazed on a bus was known for his opposition to hazing but agreed to go through a brutal initiation ritual because it was seen as an honor, according to interviews with band mates released Wednesday.

To view documents, click on the PDF file named 'Hazing Death Case Files' above

Robert Champion, 26, had asked all season to go through the hazing ritual known as "crossing over," defendant Jonathan Boyce said. Multiple witnesses say the ordeal involved the participant going from the front to the back of the bus while others beat the person.

"It's a respect thing, you know," Boyce told detectives. "Well, he was wanting to do it all ... all season."

Champion died last November after enduring hazing by other band members outside a hotel in Orlando where FAMU had played its arch-rival in football. His death revealed a culture of hazing in the famed band, which has performed at Super Bowls and presidential inauguration parades. An autopsy concluded Champion suffered blunt trauma blows to his body and died from shock caused by severe bleeding.

Champion's parents said at a news conference Wednesday that they are having a hard time believing that their son volunteered to be hazed.

"He was murdered on that bus, and no one signs up for that," Pam Champion said.

Prosecutors in Orlando have more than 1,500 pages of evidence against the 13 people charged in Champion's death last year. Eleven defendants are charged with a third-degree felony and two are charged with misdemeanors.

Drum major Keon Hollis told detectives he went through the same hazing ritual as Champion the night he died. He said there were at least 15 people on the bus.

He said Champion was the next person to be hazed after him. He said Champion seemed fine immediately afterward, but said he was thirsty. Hollis said he gave Champion some water.

Champion soon collapsed and later died.

Another hazing ritual called "the hot seat" involved getting kicked and beaten with drumsticks and bass drum mallets while covered with a blanket on a band bus called, "Bus C," band member Marc Baron told investigators. Baron isn't charged and wasn't on the bus the weekend Champion died.

Depositions offered clues to the defenses the defendants will use.

Boyce and another defendant, Shawn Turner, claimed they tried to help Champion get off the bus by pulling him through the gauntlet of band members.

"So I grab him to try to keep everybody off him, and I grab him and I'm pulling him and I'm pulling him," Boyce told detectives. "People are kicking him so I stopped them from kicking him and I put my body around his body."

Defendant Aaron Golson denied getting on the bus where the hazing took place. He said he got a ride back from the game with a friend.

"I don't know anything that happened with Robert," Golson said.

Golson also told detectives that Champion wasn't into the hazing rituals.

"Man, I'm shock(ed) if that happens," Golson said when told that Champion chose to get on the bus to be hazed.

Another defendant, Caleb Jackson, at first told detectives that he wasn't on the bus when Champion was beaten but then changed his story when he was told that hotel video surveillance showed him getting off the bus. At the time of Champion's death, Jackson was on probation for a felony battery charge.

"I love Robert like a brother, more than ya'll, any, everybody in this band loves this man like a brother, you know what I'm saying," Jackson said.

FAMU's famed Marching 100 band was suspended shortly after the incident, and officials have said it will remain sidelined at least through the 2012-2013 school year.

The school also tried to fire band director Julian White. White's dismissal was placed on hold while the criminal investigation unfolded, but he insisted that he did nothing wrong and fought for months to get reinstated. He announced his retirement earlier this month.

Under a policy in place for years before Champion's death, band members attended a mandatory anti-hazing workshop and sign a pledge saying they will not participate in hazing or submit to it. Violators were supposed to be kicked out of the band.

Associated Press writers Kelli Kennedy, Curt Anderson, Suzette Laboy, Christine Armario and Jennifer Kay in Miami, Brendan Farrington in Tallahassee, Matt Sedensky in West Palm Beach and Mitch Stacy in Tampa contributed to this report.


May 23, 2012 - Noon

Prosecutors have released more than 1,500 documents in the Robert Champion hazing investigation. One defendant in the case says Champion had asked all season to go through the hazing ritual; a claim Champions' parents deny.

To view documents, click on the PDF file named 'Hazing Death Case Files' above

The documents say one of the defendants in Robert Champion's death says Champion got on the bus where band members were being hazed because it was a sign of respect to make it through the beatings.

The deposition says Jonathan Boyce told investigators that Robert Champion had been asking all season to to through the hazing ritual.
Champion died November 19th after the Florida Classic Football game in Orlando.

In one deposition, a band member said Champion did not ride on what's called Bus C that night, but says it was not uncommon for people to come on the bus to participate in the beating ritual. They call the ritual "crossing over." The band member said participants would wait until all staff members cleared out before doing the hazing.

When asked if the bus driver, Wendy Millette, ever knew about what was going on the band member said, "probably."

Robert Champion's parents are expected to hold a press conference in Atlanta and we'll bring you those details and any other developments tonight on Eyewitness News.


May 23, 2012 - 10:30am

Pam and Robert Champion, Sr., the parents of FAMU drum major Robert Champion, along with their attorney Chris Chestnut, will address media today at 12 p.m. following the release of documents in the hazing death of their son.

To view documents, click on the PDF file named 'Hazing Death Case Files' above

The press conference will be held at attorney Chris Chestnut's Atlanta offices, 235 Peachtree Street NE, Suite 400, Atlanta, GA 30303 in the North Tower.


ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) - May 23, 2012 -

A defendant says a Florida A&M drum major who died after being hazed got on a bus where band members were ritually beaten because it was a sign of respect to have survived such an encounter.

Jonathan Boyce says in a deposition released Wednesday that the 26-year-old Robert Champion had asked all season to go through the hazing ritual. Champions' parents have said their son was a vocal opponent of the routine hazing in the band.

Prosecutors are releasing more than 1,500-pages of evidence against the 13 people charged in last year's hazing death of Champion.

FAMU's famed Marching 100 band was suspended shortly after the incident, and officials announced it will remain sidelined at least through the 2012-2013 school year.

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