Najee Baker

Baker

The mother of a Winston-Salem State University student shot to death last year after attending a party at Wake Forest University is suing the school, along with others, saying that Wake Forest officials were negligent and had inadequate security at the party.

Najee Ali Baker, 21, a WSSU football player from Brooklyn, N.Y., was shot outside The Barn, an event venue at Wake Forest, at 1:01 a.m. on Jan. 20, 2018. Baker died at 1:55 a.m. at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center from a gunshot wound to the abdomen.

Jakier Shanique Austin, 22, is charged with murder in Baker’s death, as well as possession of a firearm on educational property and carrying a concealed weapon. Malik Patience Smith, 17, is charged with possession of a handgun by a minor, assault by pointing a gun and possession of a firearm on educational property.

Austin is accused of fatally shooting Baker after a fight broke out inside The Barn and spilled outside. Investigators allege Smith pointed a gun at another WSSU student while Austin fired his gun at Baker. Baker and the other student had been walking down a roadway toward a parking lot on campus.

Jemel Dixon, Baker’s mother and the administrator of her son’s estate, filed a wrongful-death lawsuit May 7 in U.S. District Court in the Middle District of North Carolina. The lawsuit names Wake Forest University as a defendant. Other defendants include the university’s chapter of Delta Sigma Theta, which hosted the party at The Barn, and Rhino Sports & Entertainment Services LLC, which provided private security for the event.

Also named as defendants are unnamed Wake Forest University police personnel and private security personnel employed by Rhino Sports. The lawsuit is seeking at least $75,000 in compensatory damages.

Katie Neal, a university spokeswoman, released a statement saying that the school does not comment on pending litigation and referenced a previous statement: “While we cannot speak to the specific details of the criminal act that occurred on campus, the tragic shooting of Najee Ali Baker was not related to the level of security at the event.”

Steve Lawrence, an attorney for Rhino Sports & Entertainment Services, declined to comment. A message left with a number associated with the university chapter of Delta Sigma Theta was not immediately returned.

The lawsuit said that The Barn, an events center near Piccolo and Palmer residence halls, had been the site of numerous problems on campus requiring the intervention of university police and Winston-Salem police. Because of the problems, a combined force of nine university and Winston-Salem police officers monitored events held at The Barn, the lawsuit said. One of the incidents involved six different fights at one time, the lawsuit said.

Things changed in 2014 after Wake Forest police shut down a party hosted by Kappa Alpha Psi, a black fraternity. That incident led to a town hall that the university held in February 2014 during which black and other minority students alleged that university police were racist in how they handled events hosted by minority students as opposed to events held by white students.

The university police chief commissioned an independent study by Developmental Associates, a company led by two retired veteran law-enforcement officers. The company completed its report in August 2014 and recommended a number of changes, including ensuring that school law-enforcement and administrators handle event management at the university and not students. The report also recommended that the university police provide equal security at all student events to eliminate allegations of racial bias.

According to the lawsuit, school officials decided not to follow the report’s recommendation and instead left the responsibility of event management largely to students. University officials also decided against providing equal security at all student events, which would have required money to hire additional university police officers, and reduced the number of officers at events, particularly at The Barn, the lawsuit alleged. A task force formed by the university compared two different events. The first one had event and security costs of $2,600. The second event had decreased security and a cost of $840, according to the lawsuit.

“WFU’s decision to replace trained law enforcement personnel with students and third-party event staff had particularly dramatic consequences for the safety and security of student-sponsored events at The Barn, which WFU knew had been the site of prior incidents requiring high levels of law enforcement intervention, including altercations among attendees, and presented unique circumstances and challenges requiring a certain level of police presence and security,” the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit also alleges that the university decreased from three to one the number of checkpoints for an event. On the night of the party, Jan. 19, 2018, there was one checkpoint at the campus gates to verify student IDs. The party had 475 people. The Barn has a capacity of 570 people.

The lawsuit said the school had a program to train students in event management but the program was inadequate.

The lawsuit says that members of the university’s chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority failed to verify student IDs of people paying for tickets at the door, allowed unauthorized people into the party, did not provide enough security and was negligent in monitoring the size of the party. Austin, Smith and another person, none of whom were students at either Wake Forest or Winston-Salem State, were able to enter the campus and the party, even though Smith and Austin had guns in their car, the lawsuit said.

At the time, Smith had been charged twice for unlawfully having a gun and was out on a $7,500 bond. The lawsuit said Smith, Austin and an unnamed third person confronted Baker on the dance floor and got into a fight with him. The fight spilled outside, and the lawsuit said that Rhino Sports’ private security officers and university police were unable to quell the chaotic scene because there were not enough of them and the private security staff was not adequately trained.

Austin and Smith went back to their car and got guns. After the fight, the DJ announced the party was over, and Baker and another WSSU student were headed away from the party when they were confronted again by Austin and Smith. Austin shot Baker while Smith pointed a gun at the other WSSU student, the lawsuit said.

Austin, Smith and the third person were able to get away and off campus. According to a search warrant, that person was Jadakiss Hall. Hall and the WSSU student were both interviewed by police and identified Austin as the person who shot Baker, the search warrant said.

No trial date for the lawsuit has been set.

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mhewlett@wsjournal.com 336-727-7326 @mhewlettWSJ

Journal reporter John Dell contributed to this story.

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