Florida Supreme Court hears case in FAMU band hazing death
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — The Florida Supreme Court seemed skeptical Wednesday that a former Florida A&M band member was participating in a competition and shouldn’t have been convicted of beating a bandmate to death under the state’s anti-hazing law.
Defense attorney Rupak Shah argued that the state’s anti-hazing law makes an exception for “customary athletic events or other similar contests or competitions.” He’s representing Dante Martin, 30, who is serving a 6-year, 5-month sentence for manslaughter and felony hazing in the 2011 death of Marching 100 drum major Robert Champion.
Champion, 26, of Decatur, Georgia, died after band members beat him in a hazing ritual called “Crossing Bus C.” He was pummeled as he made his way from the front to the rear of a band bus after a football game in Orlando.
“If an activity constitutes a competition, then it’s not considered to be hazing,” Shah said. “There are brutal customary athletic events; there are brutal similar contests.”
“In which people are beaten?” asked Justice Charles Canady.
“What customary competition is there a beating of someone?” added Justice Peggy Quince.
Shah cited boxing and mixed martial arts as two examples.
Still, Justice Barbara Pariente added her skepticism.
“Are you saying your client was participating in a competition?” Pariente said. “What? To see who can stay alive and who dies?”
Shah said that a widely recognized dictionary definition of competition is “perseverance and endurance to overcome an obstacle.”
“There was an objective of honor and prestige, which is consistent with one of the dictionary definitions of competition,” he said.
Florida A&M’s famed Marching 100 band has played at Super Bowls and before U.S. presidents. It was suspended for more than a year after Champion’s death and began performing again at the beginning of the 2013 football season.
Assistant Attorney General Kristen Davenport told the court the law is clear and a reasonable person wouldn’t see hazing as a contest or competition.
“Otherwise, we’d have a situation where these groups would conjure up these weird competitions and say, ‘See? It’s not hazing.’ We could have a duel to be president of the fraternity. Well, that’s a competition, but I would submit it’s certainly not a customary, similar competition.”
She also said the hazing of Champion isn’t similar to sports that involve violence.
“Boxing is certainly a lot different from going to the back of the bus and getting beaten up along the way,” Davenport said. “It’s a structured sport with joint participation by everybody involved.”
A previous version of this report had an incorrect spelling of defense attorney Rupak Shah’s name.