Lawyer: FAMU band took grad's life

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DEKALB COUNTY, Ga.,None - The family of a Decatur native who died after a college band performance wants to expose and end what they call “a culture of hazing” at his school.

“We are concerned about the culture of cover-up,” the family’s attorney, Christopher Chestnut, said at an 11 a.m. news conference Monday.

Robert Champion, a 26-year-old drum major at Florida A & M, died Nov. 19 after a football game. Deputies said he complained of trouble breathing before being found unresponsive on a bus.

A Florida sheriff said he believes Champion died as a result of hazing. The school has since fired the band director, but family members believe the problem is bigger and are filing a lawsuit against the school and possibly others.

“The scope of the lawsuit is growing by the day, but I should tell you that FAMU is named in it,” Chestnut said.

He said the family wants to expose the truth about a “pervasive culture of hazing at FAMU.”

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“Obviously, sanctions for hazing at FAMU have been insufficient,” Chestnut said.

He said students want to feel accepted and don’t feel safe reporting hazing, “a culture of don’t ask, don’t tell.”

“We’re here today to say you can die,” Chestnut said. “We implore you to say something.”

Champion called his family shortly before his death to tell them he was coming home for Thanksgiving. His mother said hearing news of his death was surreal, and she expected to wake up from a dream. She described Champion as a music lover working his way through school.

“You couldn’t take him out of that band,” Champion’s mom said.

Chestnut said he devoted himself to his passion and was betrayed.

“Ultimately, music, or at least the FAMU band, took his life,” Chestnut said.

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