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Rick Scott, Florida Governor, Wants FAMU President Suspended From Job

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JAMES AMMONS
AP

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida Gov. Rick Scott said Thursday he wants the president of Florida A&M University suspended amid multiple investigations spurred by the death of a drum major in a suspected case of hazing.

Scott, who just returned from a seven-day trip to Israel, called the chairman of the FAMU board on Thursday and asked him to suspend James Ammons immediately.

Scott said he doesn't have any evidence that Ammons did anything wrong, but he thinks a suspension is warranted.

"I think it is in the president's best interest and the school's best interest that he step aside," Scott told reporters as he arrived at Tallahassee Regional Airport.

Authorities are investigating the death of Robert Champion in Orlando following a football game where the famed Marching 100 performed. Police have already said they suspect hazing played a role in Champion's death but have released few details.

Scott asked the state department of law-enforcement to assist local authorities in the investigation of Champion's death. Investigators with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement wound up discovering irregularities with the band's finances and have started a separate probe of FAMU employees and people associated with the university.

The governor said he talked to Ammons and that he is not asking him to resign. Scott said his request that Ammons step aside is needed to assure people the university is fully cooperating with investigators. Scott, however, said he has not been told that university officials are hampering the investigation.

When asked if Ammons could hang onto his job, Scott said "If he's not done anything wrong, sure, absolutely he should survive this."

FAMU's president does not report directly to the governor. But it is the governor who is responsible for selecting some of those who serve on the FAMU board of trustees. The governor also appoints most of the people who sit on the board of governors that oversees the State University System.

Solomon Badger, the chairman of the FAMU board, said the trustees would meet by phone on Monday to consider the governor's request.

Ammons put out a statement on Thursday evening defending his actions so far.

"I'm sure that this investigation will determine that under my leadership, the administration acted appropriately." Ammons said. "I serve at the pleasure of the FAMU Board of Trustees and I will abide by whatever decision the Board reaches."

The board last week discussed suspending Ammons but instead voted to publicly reprimand him.

Badger would not say whether he supports suspending Ammons but noted that decision was made prior to the news about the second investigation.

Ammons took over as president back in 2007 and was brought in to help clean the university's troubled finances and its loss of accreditation.

In the wake of Champion's death, he suspended the Marching 100 band and tried to fire band director Julian White and expel four students connected to the incident. But White responded by contending that he had warned university officials about chronic problems with hazing.

The expulsions and White's firing were rescinded at the urging of Florida authorities who said they did not want any disciplinary action taken while the criminal investigation was still pending.

But the State University System began its own internal investigation into whether FAMU officials ignored past warnings about hazing.

This week, police also arrested three band members accused of beating a female member so severely during hazing rituals that they broke her thigh. Tallahassee police said that in hazing ceremonies Oct. 31 and Nov. 1, the three struck Bria Shante Hunter's legs with their fists and with a metal ruler to initiate her into the "Red Dawg Order." It's a band clique for students from Georgia.

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