Following the filing of a wrongful-death lawsuit by the mother of Najee Ali Baker, attorneys for Wake Forest have sought to have the case dismissed.
Baker, a student at Winston-Salem State University (WSSU), was shot and killed on campus on Jan. 20, 2018, while attending a party hosted by Delta Sigma Theta at the Barn.
A fight reportedly broke out inside the Barn and guests began moving outside. According to Winston-Salem police, Jakier Shanique Austin, now 22, shot Baker as Baker and another WSSU student left the party and as Malik Patience Smith, now 17, pointed a gun at the crowds. Neither Smith nor Austin were students at Wake Forest or WSSU. Malik was arrested in January 2018 and released from jail in April of this year. Austin was arrested and charged with Baker’s murder in April 2018.
Baker’s mother, Jemel Ali Dixon, filed the wrongful-death lawsuit May 7 against Wake Forest, the university’s chapter of Delta Sigma Theta, which hosted the party, and Rhino Sports & Entertainment Services LLC, which provided private security for the party. The lawsuit seeks at least $75,000 in damages.
The court papers allege that Wake Forest failed to provide adequate security measures, such as checkpoints and security guards, at the event. The lawsuit accuses Wake Forest of ignoring signs following previous dangerous incidents at the Barn and still reducing security, which allowed the fatal shooting to occur.
In early July, attorneys for the university disputed the allegations, according to the Winston-Salem Journal, in a motion filed to have the case dismissed. One of the attorneys, Shana Fulton, said that Wake Forest cannot be held liable for Baker’s death, as the shooting was “literally unprecedented.”
In the motion to dismiss the case, Fulton argues the dangerous incidents mentioned in the lawsuit were only fist-fights.
She also argues that the university’s actions did not directly have anything to do with Baker’s death.
Fulton could not be immediately reached for comment.
Rhino Sports & Entertainment LLC also filed a written answer in July that denied allegations of neglect, the Journal reported.
In response to the motion to dismiss, one of Dixon’s attorneys, Jonathan Fazzola, argues that Wake Forest had plenty of warning to prepare for such an occurrence on campus, says the Winston-Salem Journal.
Fazzola and the original lawsuit cite an external audit of Wake Forest police completed in August 2014, after black and minority students complained that university police were racist in their handlings of events hosted by minority groups.
According to the Journal, the report recommended several items, such as the insurance “that university law enforcement and administrators handle event management at the university and not students.” Fazzola argues that administrators ignore these recommendations.
Neither Fazzola nor Jay Ferguson, another attorney representing Dixon, could not be immediately reached for comment.
No trial date has been set.
The Barn has been closed to student events since last year following the shooting.