Published December 13, 2011
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – A Florida A&M band member beaten so badly she could barely walk was a freshman on a full scholarship who believed she had no choice but to be a part of the hazing rituals, her attorney said Tuesday.
Bria Shante Hunter was punched in the legs and hit with spatula, notebook binders and rulers over two consecutive days because she tried to get out of meeting for a secret group of Georgia natives known as the "Red Dawg Order," and because she could not properly recite information about the clique, her attorney and authorities said.
Three marching band members, all men, have been charged with hazing in the beating of Hunter, who was hit so hard she broke her thigh and had blood clots in her legs, authorities said. At least two of the men said they plan to plead not guilty.
The arrests marked the first details from authorities about the secret rituals this fall among the famed Marching 100 band.
"It's part of the school. It's the best band in the country and you want to be embraced," said Hunter's attorney, B.J. Bernstein. "You really have no choice but to be a part of it and that's why the school must step in."
Police said Hunter, who played clarinet, was beaten about three weeks before drum major Robert Champion died during what was believed to be hazing on a band bus. Investigators have not said exactly what happened to Champion. He was also a clarinet player, and like Hunter, from Georgia.
Hunter's attorney said she didn't know anything about Champion's case or whether her client had talked with him.
Champion's death set off several investigations of the marching band and school administrators who appear to have long known about the hazing tradition.
Hunter, in an interview with Orlando station WFTV-TV, 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."
Hunter did not attend her attorney's news conference. She was taking her final exam and then plans to transfer to another school.
Tallahassee police said the three men arrested were involved in hazing Hunter at an off-campus apartment.
Authorities said James Harris, 22, helped plan the hazing at his apartment and, at one point, he stopped the other two men from hitting Hunter further. He has been charged with hazing and his bond was set at $2,500.
Harris' attorney, Eric Abrahamsen, insisted there was no evidence his client took part in the hazing.
Sean Hobson, 23, and 19-year-old Aaron Golson, were charged with hazing and battery, and their bail was set at $10,000. An attorney for Golson said he would also plead not guilty.
Hobson did not yet have an attorney.
The men posted bail and have been released from jail.
Authorities said Hunter was targeted Oct. 31 by 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 following day, police said, Hunter was beaten with a metal ruler when she could not recite information about the "Red Dawg Order" properly.
Police said Hobson sent Hunter a text message Nov. 5 to say he was sorry.
"I apologize for the hurt I put you through. I apologize for the mental and physical strain you have endured," Hobson said in the message, according to police.
When authorities interviewed him, Hobson acknowledged he was a member of the "Red Dawg Order" but denied harming Hunter or sending her a text message.
Attorney Craig Brown, who is representing Golson, told the judge his client was a good student and should be released without bond because he was cooperating with police. Leon County Judge Ronald Flurry, however, required Golson to post a bond. The judge said if the charges were true, they were "egregious."
After the hearing, Brown said there was a "difference in the stories" of what actually took place.
Ricky Jones, director of the Center on Race and Inequality at the University of Louisville and an expert on hazing, said he had not heard of a case where a female had been beaten by males.
"This doesn't mean it's a first," he said. Since the band and its various groups admit men and women, mixed gender hazing might not be uncommon, Jones said.
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. Luckey told Tallahassee police that it was mostly girls who hit him in an initiation to become part of "The Clones."
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. School president James Ammons has vowed to break what he calls a "code of silence" on the hazing rituals.
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 school fired band director Julian White, who contends he tried to report problems with hazing to his superiors. He was reinstated 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 also reinstated.
Associated Press writer Christine Armario in Miami contributed to this report.