TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Three Florida A&M band members were charged Monday in the beating of a woman during hazing rituals that became so severe that her thigh was broken, police said. The beatings came about three weeks before drum major Robert Champion was killed during a band trip to Orlando. Police say hazing also was involved.
Tallahassee police said that on Oct. 31 and Nov. 1, Bria Shante Hunter was beaten with fists and a metal ruler to initiate her into the "Red Dawg Order" – a band clique for students who come from Georgia.
Hunter told police that days later the pain became so unbearable that she went to the hospital. Besides her broken thigh bone, she had had blood clots in her legs.
Sean Hobson, 23, and Aaron Golson, 19, were charged Monday with hazing and battery, and James Harris, 22, was charged with hazing.
Champion's death and now the arrests have 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 beating with a paddle.
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.
Leon County records show that all three arrested men were in jail on Monday night. A university spokeswoman confirmed they were students. Attempts to reach listed numbers for them were unsuccessful.
Police say that the hazing happened at Harris' off-campus apartment in Tallahassee and that at one point he stopped Golson and Hobson from hitting Hunter further. Hunter did not immediately return a call to her cell phone.
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, according to information the police got from others who witnessed the incident.
The second beating came when Hunter and other pledges could not recite information about the "Red Dawg Order" properly. It was during that one that a metal ruler was used on Hunter's legs.
Police say that 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 he denied that 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 reinstated and placed on administrative leave at the request of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement which asked the university to halt all disciplinary actions until the criminal investigation is finished. Four students connected to Champion's death were expelled, but then reinstated at the request of the law-enforcement agency.
Last week the Board of Trustees reprimanded Ammons over his job performance, including how the university has dealt with hazing. The panel that oversees the state university system has also 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.