Appeals court affirms dismissal of Barn lawsuit

The case centers around the fatal shooting of Winston-Salem State student Najee Ali Baker at a 2018 party


Courtesy of Wake Forest

The Student Activity Space (now called the Barn) was the site of the 2018 shooting that killed Najee Ali Baker.

Emily Toro, News Editor

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of a wrongful death lawsuit against Wake Forest University on May 23, according to court documents.

The lawsuit was filed by the estate of Najee Ali Baker, a 21-year-old Winston-Salem State University student who was killed during a Delta Sigma Theta party held at Wake Forest’s Student Activity Space (then called the Barn) in 2018. The reasoning of both the District Court, which originally dismissed the case, and the Fourth Circuit, was that Baker’s estate failed to show that Wake Forest was negligent.

“Baker’s estate sued [Wake Forest], claiming [it] was negligent in hosting the party without sufficient security,” according to the Fourth Circuit.

The lawsuit also claimed that Wake Forest disregarded a study that recommended ways for university police to better handle events hosted by minority students, according to the Winston-Salem Journal. 

In response to these concerns, Dean of Students Dr. Adam Goldstein implemented a new security plan known as the Dean of Students’ or DOS plan which ultimately reduced security. 

“In the period between the Barn’s opening in 2011 and the implementation of the DOS plan in 2015, five violent incidents occurred in the vicinity of the Barn,” the Fourth Circuit said in its decision. “Between the implementation of the DOS plan in 2015 and the shooting of Baker in 2018, three violent incidents occurred. Further, as noted, the two incidents which were severe enough to warrant medical attention occurred before the implementation of the DOS plan.” 

There were less violent incidents after Wake Forest reduced security presence and the court also noted that nothing as tragic had previously occurred to alert Wake Forest officials of a potential fatal shooting. 

In response to the recent dismissal, Cheryl Walker, Executive Director of Strategic Communications, said: “Wake Forest’s deepest condolences remain with the family and friends of Najee Baker in his tragic death. The University believes the Court’s reasoning in the case is in accordance with applicable law.”

Jonathan Fazzola, one of Baker’s attorneys, did not return a request to comment.