FAMU Update: Champion’s Death Ruled A Homicide; Ammons Considers Stepping Down
The FAMU Marching 100 drum major who died last month in Orlando was a homicide victim, according to the Orange-Osceola Medical Examiner‘s Office. The information was released Friday after a meeting between Governor Rick Scott and Florida A&M University President James Ammons. It also came shortly after we learned of a reported molestation at FAMU’s K-12 school last May.
Governor Scott announced Thursday that he wanted Ammons suspended immediately and indefinitely. The governor said the decision is based on information from FDLE agents investigating 26-year-old Robert Champion’s death. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement has been on the case since shortly after Champion died last month in Orlando. The Orange County Sheriff’s Office is also investigating the death, which is believed to have involved hazing by members of FAMU’s Marching 100 band.
Scott was briefed on the investigation as he traveled home from a trade mission overseas. He told reporters at the airport in Tallahassee Thursday that FDLE is expanding the investigation because of financial irregularities at FAMU.
In light of the new information from FDLE, Scott said he thinks a suspension is appropriation while the investigations are carried out. He is asking FAMU’s Board of Trustees to suspend Ammons at their Monday meeting.
After the governor’s request on Thursday, Ammons released the following statement:
This is a very critical time in the life of FAMU considering the circumstances surrounding the Robert Champion incident. All involved must do what is in the best interest of the university because there are many students, families, faculty and staff depending on us to make the right decisions about how FAMU will continue to carry out its mission. During my tenure as president, we have had many significant accomplishments. I’m sure that this investigation will determine that under my leadership, the administration acted appropriately. I serve at the pleasure of the FAMU Board of Trustees and I will abide by whatever decision the Board reaches.
At the same time, FAMU Board of Trustees Chair Solomon Badger released this statement:
I have received a communication from the Governor, but I have not met with or discussed this matter with the Board. This is a very difficult decision that we are facing. We have supported President Ammons’ leadership even through this crisis. I want to discuss the Governor’s request with members of the FAMU Board of Trustees. We will make a decision about how we move forward on Monday.
At their December 8th meeting, FAMU’s Trustees voted to publicly reprimand Ammons for his handling of the Champion case but not suspend him. Since that meeting, three FAMU students were arrested for an earlier incident linked to hazing. A freshman band member said she was beaten over a period of days as part of an initiation into a subgroup of Marching 100 members from Georgia. She was diagnosed with blood clots in her legs, deep bruises in her bones and a cracked thigh bone.
Hundreds of FAMU students held a protest Thursday night outside the Governor’s Mansion in support of Ammons. Scott told them that possible fraud and criminal activity in addition to Champion’s death are the reasons Ammons should be suspended.
A day after the protest, we learned about a molestation case at FAMU’s K-12 school. An 18-year-old graduate of FAMU Developmental Research School was arrested by FDLE agents in October for allegedly molesting an 8-year-old in a school bathroom last May. Ralph Monroe was arrested in Alabama, where he attends Stillman College on a football scholarship. The governor had alluded to another reason why Ammons should be suspended during the protest outside the mansion, but wouldn’t elaborate. FDLE released its report on the molestation shortly after Scott spoke to reporters Friday afternoon.
Ammons went to the Capitol Friday afternoon to meet with Scott in the Governor’s Office. After the meeting, Ammons told reporters he was considering stepping down, at least temporarily. Then came the news that Robert Champion’s death had been ruled a homicide.