TALLAHASSEE -- The freshman Florida A&M band member who was beaten so badly she could barely walk was picked on in part because she was deemed the “Ace,” or the leader of the pledges for a secret group of Georgia natives known as “Red Dawg Order,” authorities said. She was on a full scholarship and believed she had no choice but to be a part of the hazing rituals.
Bria Shante Hunter was punched in the legs and hit with spatula, notebook binders and rulers on consecutive days because she tried to get out of a group meeting, and she could not properly recite information about the club, her attorney and authorities said. She went to the hospital with a broken thigh, severe bruising and blot clots.
“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.”
Three marching band members, all men, have been charged with hazing in Hunter’s beating, authorities said. Two of the men were also charged with battery.
Documents released after the arrests detailed for the first time the secret rituals this fall among the famed Marching 100 band.
Attorneys for two of the men said they plan to plead not guilty and one lawyer questioned whether the events happened the way police described them in a sworn statement.
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 leader, clarinet player, and like Hunter, from Southwest DeKalb High School in Georgia.
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 at Florida A&M, where her parents also went to school. Her father was in the marching band.
Hunter will give up her four-year, $82,000 scholarship to transfer to another school, said her attorney, who plans to sue the university.
Tallahassee police said the three men arrested were involved in hazing Hunter at an off-campus apartment.
Sean Hobson, 23, and 19-year-old Aaron Golson, were charged with hazing and battery. An attorney for Golson said he would plead not guilty. Hobson did not yet have an attorney.
James Harris, 22, has been charged with hazing. He helped plan the hazing at his apartment, police said. At one point, however, he told the other two men to stop hitting Hunter.
Harris’ attorney insisted there was no evidence his client took part in the hazing.
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 the men believed she was lying about a meeting that conflicted with a club gathering. She was repeatedly punched on the tops of her thighs by Golson and Hobson, witnesses told police.
Hunter was lined up with about 11 other pledges, ordered to lift her legs as if she were about to march and hit again and again, authorities said. Some of the other pledges were also smacked on the back of the head for not knowing information about the group or being unable to recite poems for the order.
The following day, police said, Hunter was beaten with a metal ruler when she could not recite information about the “Red Dawg Order” properly.
Hobson sent Hunter a text message Nov. 5 to say he was sorry, according to authorities.
“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.
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.
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, this might not be uncommon, Jones said.
Harris’ roommate, Charles Ford, said he did not know anything about the alleged beating as he was out that night until 3 a.m.
“I’m just living here,” Ford said. “The story seems kind of crazy to me. James wouldn’t do anything like that.”
Hunter and other pledges also told police that they gave the clique $50 for a red Adidas jump suit with the club’s colors but never received it. Hunter had asked for her money back, police 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.”