WASHINGTON WATCH: 12 Charged With Manslaughter In Robert Champion's Death (VIDEO) | Roland Martin Reports

WASHINGTON WATCH: 12 Charged With Manslaughter In Robert Champion’s Death (VIDEO)

It has been over a year since Robert Champion died of wounds allegedly inflicted by a group of Florida A&M University band members in a hazing incident that left parents across the country outraged and afraid for their own college-age children and calling for justice. Last May, ten of the band members involved were charged with third-degree felony hazing, but this week, the Florida state’s attorney’s office said they’re adding the charge of manslaughter for each defendant, and they’ve charged two more defendants with manslaughter.

The mother of Robert Champion, Pamela Champion, and the family’s attorney, Christopher Chestnut joined Roland Martin on Washington Watch to discuss the case.

MR. MARTIN:  Hello and welcome to “Washington Watch.”

It has been over a year since Robert Champion died of wounds allegedly inflicted by a group of Florida A&M University band members in a hazing incident that left parents across the country outraged and afraid for their own college-age children and calling for justice.  Last May, ten of the band members involved were charged with third-degree felony hazing, but this week, the Florida state’s attorney’s office said they’re adding the charge of manslaughter for each defendant, and they’ve charged two more defendants with manslaughter.

Joining us to talk about this devastating case is the mother of Robert Champion, Pamela Champion, and the family’s attorney, Christopher Chestnut.

Folks, welcome to “Washington Watch.”

MR. CHRISTOPHER CHESTNUT:  How are you?

MR. MARTIN:  Well, Pamela, we certainly offer our condolences for the loss of your son.  That is the last thing that any parent would certainly want to go through, sending their child off to college.

So, I just want to get your reaction to the decision this week to file manslaughter charges and seeing this expand from ten to 12.  Do you believe that you’re on the path to get justice for the death of Robert?

MS. PAMELA CHAMPION:  Well, I can say that I was very encouraged – very encouraged – to hear the news of them adding the manslaughter to the charges.  I definitely think it’s a step in the right direction.  My husband and I were very pleased.

MR. MARTIN:  Certainly, there’s been lots of attention focused on the university, what they knew, what they didn’t know.  Do you believe that, in Florida A&M’s case, that they also are culpable for what took place?  Because we’ve heard other incidents come out.  All of a sudden, there’s been a university-wide investigation.  The president is no longer there.  And so what responsibility do you believe the university has in this, in addition to what the criminal courts will decide as relates to these individual band members?

MS. CHAMPION:  What I will say is that the university was aware of the problem that they had at the school.  This just didn’t happen in 2011.  The problem they had at this school has been for years within that band, and the fact that nothing was really done is how things kept escalating.  There were numerous cases of how things were escalating.  Many parents and students were complaining, but nothing was done.

MR. CHESTNUT:  For decades.  Not just years – decades.

MR. MARTIN:  And, Christopher, on that particular point, some folks were hopeful that, after what took place with Robert, that you would see some changes take place in other bands, but I spent some time speaking at Prairie View A&M University.  The president there had to suspend their drumline due to hazing.  At Texas Southern University, they also had issues there.  And so what is it about this – even with the death of a young man at Florida A&M, Robert Champion – that you still heard these examples of hazing taking place in these bands on HBCU campuses?  But also, let’s be honest.  There’s hazing taking place on college campuses across the country, but there’s something unique when it comes to HBCU bands.

MR. CHESTNUT:  Absolutely.  And, you know, initiation is a part of a collegiate experience, especially when considering a band, or a fraternity or sorority, but the level and extent of hazing is shocking at FAMU – at least in this instance.

Furthermore, you know, hazing isn’t the only pathway to excellence.  There are multiple avenues of discipline that can assure excellence beyond and beside[s] hazing.  I think now we’re seeing a different trend, because for the first time this has really been taken seriously.  I think, for a long time, it’s been swept under the rug.  It’s been hush-hush.  It’s been something that’s been kept within the community.  This has gained national exposure, and so now that – especially with these students being charged with manslaughter – this takes it to a new realm.  There’re significant penalties associated with hazing now.

MR. MARTIN:  Pamela, how do you respond to critics who say that your son was culpable in this, in that it takes two to haze?  It takes the individual who chooses to haze.  It takes the individual who receives it.  He was a drum major, and critics say, “Look, he played a role in this.”  How do you respond to that?  Because certainly, that is likely going to come up in the case from the defense as relates to these charges.

MS. CHAMPION:  Well, the way that I respond to that is if anyone is saying those kind[s] of things, then it’s obvious they didn’t know Robert.  Most people that know my son – the only way they know him is through the people who killed him.  So, you have to consider your source of those [who’re] trying to tell you who he is.  So, the main thing is if people are saying, then it’s obvious they don’t know my son.

MR. MARTIN:  Chris, what is the –

MR. CHESTNUT:  It’s not an isolated incident, Roland.  This has been happening for decades.

MR. MARTIN:  — um-hum.  Chris, what is the status of –

MR. CHESTNUT:  And there’re document incidents of hazing.  It’s a culture.

MR. MARTIN:  — what is the status of the civil suit that the family has filed on behalf of Robert Champion?

MR. CHESTNUT:  Yeah.  We filed a lawsuit last year.  There are some motions pending.  Florida A&M filed a motion to dismiss.  Excuse me.  A motion for summary judgment.  The bus line filed a motion to dismiss.  We’re waiting on the judge’s rulings on those motions.  We’re continuing to take depositions.  We’re continuing to propound discovery.  So, we’re, to the extent that we can, moving the case along.

MR. MARTIN:  All right, then.  Well, Christopher Chestnut, we certainly appreciate it.

And, Pamela Champion, thank you so very much for joining us as well.  Again, our best to you and your husband as you still deal with the aftermath of the death of your son Robert.  Thanks a bunch for joining us here on “Washington Watch.”

MS. CHAMPION:  Thank you so much.

MR. CHESTNUT:  Thanks.