A mother’s efforts to hold Wake Forest University legally accountable for the fatal shooting of her son on its campus four years ago appeared to end on Monday after the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear her appeal against the decision of a federal appeals court.
Najee Ali Baker, 21, was from Brooklyn, New York, and transferred to Winston-Salem State University to complete his undergraduate studies and play football. In the early morning hours of January 20, 2018, he was shot dead after leaving a party at The Barn on the school campus.
Two people were subsequently convicted in connection with his death. Jakier Shanique Austin, 25, is serving up to seven years and five months for intentional homicide and is scheduled to be released on November 1, 2023. Malik Patience Smith, who was 16 at the time of the shooting, was found guilty of having a brought a gun to college and pointed the gun at another man. Smith received approximately two years in prison.
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More than a year after Baker’s death, his mother, Jemel Ali Dixon, filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Wake Forest University and others, including the university’s chapter of Delta Theta Sigma, alleging that school officials had lax security and failed to properly screen people attending the party. The lawsuit alleged that the school was negligent and failed to do all it could to prevent a fatal shooting on its campus.
But U.S. District Judge Catherine Eagles sided with Wake Forest University in granting the school’s request for summary judgment on August 5, 2021.
Dixon’s attorneys appealed this decision to the 4th Circuit of the United States Court of Appeals. In May, a panel of three judges rejected the appeal. A request for the full 17-judge appeals court to hear the case was denied in June.
Dixon’s attorneys, Jonathon Fazzola and Chloe Neely, filed a motion asking the United States Supreme Court to hear the case. On Monday, the United States Supreme Court rejected that request. The court did not provide any reason why it would not hear the case.
In an interview on Thursday, Jemel Ali Dixon and Ronald Baker, Dixon’s husband and Baker’s father, said they believed Wake Forest University should be held accountable and that the school was trying to erase what had happened. When they heard the ruling, their thoughts turned to the recent fatal shooting of three University of Virginia football players. Authorities have charged a current student who played on the school football team with three counts of murder.
“We understand what they are going through and we feel their pain,” Dixon said of the parents of the three football players and two other injured students. “These things keep happening on college campuses.”
Baker’s death marked the first time someone has been shot and killed on the Wake Forest University campus since the school moved to Winston-Salem in the 1950s, court documents show.
On January 19, 2018, Baker attended a party at The Barn hosted by the college chapter of Delta Sigma Theta. During the party, Baker and Smith got into an argument and quickly turned into a scuffle, according to a brief filed with the Supreme Court by Fazzola and Neely. Austin joined the fight. At the time, a Wake Forest University police officer, Michael Bottoms, was providing security for the party at the barn, which had a capacity of about 500 people. A student served as an event resource manager who checked people’s tickets.
Although the party was aimed at students, half of the attendees were non-students, Fazzola and Neely said. Austin and his band left, and Baker left soon after. Lucas Wille, a student working as the event’s resource manager, said he saw an “extra little scuffle” outside and heard someone shout “get your gun, get your gun” and “go get your gun.” search, get it out,” three to four times, the lawyers wrote in court documents. The 4th Circuit court ruling said Wille later noted that he thought the statements were “gossip.”
Afterwards, an eyewitness in a nearby parking lot saw Smith running towards a car, picking up a handgun and running towards The Barn, stopping to hide the gun in his pockets. Meanwhile, Baker was walking down a path from The Barn when Smith pointed his gun at Baker’s group. Austin and another person “appeared out of nowhere” behind Baker. That’s when Austin shot Baker, according to court documents.
The three-judge 4th Circuit panel said there was no way Wake Forest University officials could predict a fatal shooting would occur. The university instituted changes to police presence at major campus events after black students and other minorities complained that university police officers were racist in the way they handled events organized by minority students.
The 4th Circuit Court ruling said there were five violent incidents at The Barn before the new security plan, known as the Dean of Students’ plan, was put in place and reduced attendance policewoman. After that, there were three violent incidents before Baker was shot in 2018.
“The (Wake Forest) campus is easily accessible to the general public, and thousands of people, including students, staff and visitors, are on campus every day,” the court said. “Despite the large amount of traffic the campus receives daily, from the founding of the Winston-Salem campus in 1956 until January 20, 2018, when Baker was shot, there had never been a shooting on campus. “
But Fazzola and Neely said security officers at Wake Forest University had warned that the school’s security plan was irresponsible and inadequate, and that the private security company that had been hired for some of the events of the school had offered to “outsource its employees to serve as field agents”. ‘ bouncers and provide other measures that the company has advised WFU is necessary for the safety of Barn events.
They also said members of Delta Sigma Theta, who regularly hold events at The Barn, have repeatedly asked the school for permission to hire additional security guards “specifically citing the need for security. handy for physically intervening and defusing fights, like clubs”. would have with bouncers. “”
Dixon and Ronald Baker criticized both Wake Forest University and the Forsyth County District Attorney’s Office in their son’s death. They said Forsyth County prosecutors did not do all they could to secure a first-degree murder conviction for Austin. In interviews before and after Austin’s June 2020 plea hearing, they specifically blamed Chief Assistant District Attorney Jennifer L. Martin. They said she should have recused herself from the case because she was a member of a task force that produced a 2015 report addressing allegations that Wake Forest University police discriminated black students and other minorities.
Martin said she was not the prosecutor who handled the case and worked in several volunteer roles at both Wake Forest and WSSU, including the WSSU Chancellor’s Commission on the community safety.
During Austin’s plea hearing, Assistant District Attorney Belinda Foster said prosecutors were embarrassed by witnesses’ unwillingness to cooperate, including Jadakiss Hall, a friend of Austin’s who told police that he had seen Austin shoot Baker. Hall declined to meet with police investigators and prosecutors as the case prepared for trial, Foster said. She said that of the 400 people who attended the party, no one showed up to say what exactly happened.
Now that the U.S. Supreme Court has declined to hear the case, there appear to be no other avenues for the federal trial.
Fazzola and Neely were not immediately available for comment.
La Grange, located near the Piccolo and Palmer halls of residence, has since been renamed; it is now known as the Center for Academic Activities. Dixon and Ronald Baker said they believe it was the school’s attempt to erase what happened to their son. Baker said her son “can never be forgotten.”
“Wake Forest will never be able to clear his name because his blood will always be on this campus,” he said.