TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Two Florida A&M University students appeared in court on Tuesday and said they plan to fight charges that they beat a fellow member of the famed Marching 100 band so hard during a hazing ritual that she was left with a broken thigh.
Tallahassee police said three men band members were involved in hazing Bria Shante Hunter for the “Red Dawg Order” — a band clique for students from Georgia. Investigators contend on Oct. 31 and Nov. 1, Hunter was beaten with fists and a metal ruler.
The alleged hazing of Hunter came about three weeks before drum major Robert Champion died during a band trip to Orlando. Police suspect that hazing was involved in that death.
At the hearing on Tuesday, a judge set a bond of $2,500 for James Harris, 22, who is charged with hazing.
Bonds of $10,000 were set for Sean Hobson, 23, and Aaron Golson, 19. They are charged with hazing and battery.
Attorneys for Harris and Golson said their clients would plead not guilty. It wasn’t immediately clear how Hobson would plead.
Police said the hazing happened at Harris’ off-campus apartment in Tallahassee, and at one point, he stopped Golson and Hobson from hitting Hunter further.
Hunter did not immediately return a call to her cell phone. In an interview with Orlando station WFTV-TV, she was asked why band members take part in hazing.
“So we can be accepted,” she said. “If you don’t do anything, then, it’s like you’re lame.”
Eric Abrahamsen, an attorney for Harris, insisted there was no evidence his client participated in the hazing. Prosecutors said Harris helped plan the hazing.
Craig Brown, who is representing Golson, said he was a good student and that should be released without bond because he was cooperating with police. Leon County Judge Ronald Flurry, however, required Golson to post a bond because he said if the charges were true, they were “egregious.”
Golson’s mother traveled from Atlanta for the hearing but refused to comment.
After the hearing, Brown said Golson would fight the charges and said there was a “difference in the stories” of what actually took place.
Champion’s death exposed a hazing tradition that has long haunted the university. Former clarinet player Ivery Luckey was hospitalized after he said he was paddled around 300 times in 1998. Three years later, band member Marcus Parker suffered kidney damage because of a paddle beating.
After Champion died, the university indefinitely suspended performances by the famed Marching 100 and school President James Ammons has vowed to break what he calls a “code of silence” on the hazing rituals.
In the alleged hazing of Hunter, she told police that days later the pain became so unbearable she went to the hospital. She had a broken thigh and blood clots in her legs.
Officers said in the arresting documents that Hunter was targeted by the other members of the “Red Dawg Order” because she tried to get out of going to a group meeting. She was repeatedly punched on the tops of her thighs by Golson and Hobson, witnesses told police.
The second beating came when Hunter and other pledges could not recite information about the “Red Dawg Order” properly. That was when a metal ruler was used on her legs.
Police said Hobson sent Hunter a text message on Nov. 5 that stated “I apologize for the hurt I put you through. I apologize for the mental and physical strain you have endured.” When interviewed later by police, Hobson acknowledged he was a member of the “Red Dawg Order” but denied harming Hunter or sending her a text message.
Harris also denied to police that he allowed his apartment to be used to hold the meetings and that he saw Hunter getting hit.
After Champion’s death, the school fired band director Julian White, who contends he tried to report problems with hazing to his superiors. He has since been re-instated and placed on administrative leave because the Florida Department of Law Enforcement asked the university to halt all disciplinary actions until the investigation is finished. Four students connected to Champion’s death were expelled but then re-instated.
Last week, the board of trustees reprimanded James Ammons over his job performance, including how the university has dealt with hazing. The panel that oversees the state university system also has called for a probe into whether school officials ignored past warnings about hazing.
“The board of trustees and president Ammons hope that through these arrests all involved in perpetuating this culture will really begin to view hazing as a serious matter,” said university spokeswoman Sharon Saunders.