The torture bus
Would a grieving family get justice for a college ritual gone wrong?
the story so far:
On 19 November 2011, Robert Champion agreed to take part in a college initiation ceremony – or ‘hazing’. He ended up being beaten so severely that he died. But who would pay the price?
The caseé team terror
Robert Champion was destined for greatness.
For, as well as being bright and conscientious, he was a gifted clarinet player.
In fact, he was so good that – after getting a place at the prestigious Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University (FAMU) – he immediately won a place in the university’s marching band.
Florida A&M’S Marching 100 was a real one of a kind.
They’d played in front of everyone – from celebrities and presidents to a televised audience of 106 million at the US National Football League Super Bowl.
Their routines were spectacular. The musicians formed boats, planes and spelled out words with their bodies, all while marching and playing their instruments.
At every concert they played, the crowd went wild.
Robert was soon promoted to drum major, one of just six students who dressed in special uniforms to lead the rest of the band on to the field.
But, although he’d earned a place as a senior member of the band, he had yet to earn the complete respect and loyalty of his fellow musicians.
To achieve that, he needed to endure a brutal ritual that had become a band tradition.
The university didn’t approve of so-called ‘hazing’ ceremonies – illegal in Florida law – but that didn’t stop the Florida A&M’S Marching 100 carrying them out.
Robert, 26, had been in the band for a while without facing the hazing, and more junior members – who’d already been through it –wanted to know when he would.
Reluctantly, Robert agreed to fix a time and date.
‘I just want to get it over
with,’ he said to a friend .
So, on the night of 19 November 2011, Robert made his way to an empty car park where one of the band’s buses was parked.
The ceremony was called Crossing Bus C because it challenged those who took part to make it from the front of the bus to the back. Sounds simple. But Robert would have to run the gauntlet of fellow band members waiting to inflict as much pain as possible.
As Robert got on the bus, percussionist Dante Martin, known as the ‘President of Bus C’, ordered him to sit down and crouch over, ready for what was called the ‘hot seat’.
Martin told the other musicians that Robert had never done it before and to ‘take care’ of it.
They did as they were told, dishing out a brutal beating that saw him punched, kicked and hit repeatedly with drum sticks.
When Robert tried to break free, he was dragged back to the front to start again.
As he was being beaten in the ‘hot seat’, his friend and fellow drum major Keon Hollis, 22, was attempting to ‘cross over’ from the front to the back of the bus.
As well as being beaten with fists, he was hit with a large wet floor cone and lifted up to the roof of the bus, then dropped to the floor.
When Hollis finally made it to the other side, he had to watch as Robert attempted to follow him.
He couldn’t see exactly what was happening to him because the bus was so packed, but he could hear kicks and punches making contact.
Robert was pushed into a seat and the mob refused to let him back out. As he sat there, it appeared that someone was hanging from the luggage racks and stamping on him.
A couple of band members tried to help Robert, but they didn’t stand a chance against the power of the mob, hell bent on causing as much damage as they could.
Finally, another drum major managed to grab hold of Robert and pulled him free so he could touch the back wall of the bus.
It was over. Robert had survived the ordeal… but not for long. He begged for water and someone threw him a bottle of energy drink. The bus started to empty, but Robert couldn’t move. He told those left behind, who’d participated in the ceremony but were now trying to help, that he couldn’t see anything even though his eyes were wide open. Suddenly, Robert passed out and vomited. And then he stopped breathing. A band member performed CPR while another called for an ambulance. But it was too late – Robert’s life could not be saved. An autopsy later showed that he had extensive, widespread contusions over his chest, right shoulder, arms and back, along with extensive internal bleeding. It was concluded by the Medical Examiner that Robert died from haemorrhagic shock due to internal bleeding from the blunt-force trauma that he experienced.
The police launched an investigation, and nine of those involved were eventually convicted for their roles in the hazing, although they were mostly given community-service sentences and probation.
But Robert’s family wanted real justice, and the prosecutors decided to charge ringleader Dante Martin with manslaughter and other charges in relation to the hazing of Robert and three others.
Martin refused to help detectives during the investigation and chose not to testify at his trial.
‘He was directly responsible for directing those other band members to hand out those savage beatings,’ said the Assistant State Attorney.
The jury was shown shocking photographs of Robert’s body, proving the extent of his injuries.
However, Dante Martin’s lawyers told the court their client was no more responsible than other band members, who had got off lightly.
‘There was not a scintilla of evidence that he encouraged anyone to hit or kick Mr Champion or anyone else,’ said his lawyer.
So was the ‘President of Bus C’ ultimately responsible for Robert Champion’s tragic death, or was an example simply being made of Dante Martin?
it was too late. Robert could not be saved
Ajury found Dant Dante Martin guilty of the manslaughter of Robert Champion plus a charge of felony hazing resulting in death and two counts of misdemeanour.
He was later sentenced to more than six years in prison.
Robert Champion’s mum spoke in court, saying, ‘Mr Martin, you have no idea what my days and my nights are like. You have no idea what they have become.’
Robert’s dad added that he felt some sympathy for Martin’s family but that ‘we’ve got to set an example that this has got to stop now’.
The scandal caused by Robert’s death also saw the band suspended and the University’s President resign.
Rt: Victim ROBE Gifted musician