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Family of drum major killed in hazing rejects settlement

By Barbara Liston

ORLANDO, Florida (Reuters) - Florida A&M University has offered the family of a drum major killed in a hazing incident $300,000 to settle a lawsuit against the school, but the family's lawyer said on Thursday that they would reject the money.

"The family is shocked and disappointed and cannot accept this offer," attorney Christopher Chestnut said.

Chestnut represents the parents of Robert Champion Jr., who died after being beaten last year during a brutal marching band ritual in Orlando. The death of Champion, 26, was ruled a homicide by the medical examiner.

Champion's family sued the university to ensure future students are not subjected to hazing rituals at the school, their attorney said.

Chestnut said the family and university had engaged in an unsuccessful mediation to attempt to settle the wrongful death lawsuit. An attorney for the public university in Tallahassee said $300,000 was the maximum amount it could offer without getting special approval from the state legislature.

"It is our hope that this settlement will be accepted and can, in some way, help in the healing process for the Champion family and the entire FAMU community," lawyer Rick Mitchell said.

The school has previously sought to get the suit dismissed, arguing in court papers that Champion volunteered to be hazed in a bid to gain respect from fellow band members.

Chestnut said the amount of money offered suggested that FAMU was not accepting responsibility or taking the matter seriously despite "decades and decades of hazing that ultimately led to this death."

Chestnut said the family would entertain reasonable offers from the university, but refused to suggest a dollar amount.

"I think a jury is going to decide that," he said. "It's more than a dollar amount."

Twelve former members of the historically black college's "Marching 100" band were charged with felony hazing in Champion's death. One member pleaded no contest and was sentenced to house arrest and probation last month. The other 11 defendants have pleaded not guilty.

The band has been suspended since Champion's death.

(Additional reporting by Michael Peltier; Editing by Colleen Jenkins, Cynthia Johnston and Mohammad Zargham)

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