Massachusetts Negligent Security Lawsuit Aimed at Harvard University

Harvard University is the crème de la crème of Ivy League schools; an institution that has fostered the best and the brightest.

And now it finds itself caught up in a storm that has to do with a murder in one of its residence halls. And interestingly enough, none of the three men allegedly involved in the Cambridge Massachusetts murder were Harvard students, which has brought about a case of college dormitory negligent security.

Here’s the story. A 21-year-old man named Justin Cosby allegedly entered Kirkland Hall at Harvard University on May 18, 2009. Prosecutors alleged that Mr. Cosby entered the property for the sole purpose of selling a large quantity of marijuana to some people there in the residence hall. A man named Jabrai Copney was convicted in Middlesex Superior Court of the alleged first-degree murder of Mr. Cosby. Mr. Copney was not a Harvard student either, but he had access to Harvard University buildings because he was romantically involved with Harvard Student Brittany Smith, who lived in Lowell House. He apparently lived in Lowell House with Ms. Smith.

On the day of Mr. Cosby’s murder, apparently Mr. Copney and two other men allegedly gained access to Kirkland Hall by using Ms. Smith’s identification card. There, he and two other men confronted Mr. Cosby, but he refused to hand over his marijuana and cash and was shot – allegedly by Mr. Copney.

As the alleged mastermind of the drug robbery, Mr. Copney was, in April 2011, convicted in Middlesex Superior Court of Massachusetts first-degree murder, along with his two codefendents. He is currently serving a life sentence without any possibility of parole.

And now, Mr. Cosby’s mother has entered the picture, as she has filed a negligent security lawsuit , against Harvard University and three of its officials: the two masters of Lowell House and also the former dean of Lowell House. Denise Cosby claims that the school is liable for negligence in that it allowed Mr. Copney to operate what she described as a “criminal enterprise” in the dormitory where her son Justin was murdered. She believes that her son would be alive today if Harvard had followed its own dorm security policies and kept track of all of the people living in its dorms. According to her claims, which are based on the law of Massachusetts premises liability, the school should have known that Mr. Copney was living, unauthorized, on its premises.

After the killing, here’s what happened to Ms. Smith, the only Harvard University student implicated in this murder. In 2011, Ms. Smith pleaded guilty to charges of being an accessory after the fact of Massachusetts assault and battery with a dangerous weapon, illegal possession of a firearm in Massachusetts, willfully misleading a grand jury, and willfully misleading a police officer. She allegedly stashed the murder weapon in the bedroom of another student at Lowell House, and then fled to New York with the other men.

As a Dedham/Boston negligent security attorney, I can tell you this: Violent attacks happen on college campuses and other business property more frequently than most people realize. Across the nation, annually, thousands of people are victims of violent crime occurring on commercial property. These include university dorms. Many times, these horrible events could have – and should have – been prevented if the property owners had taken sufficient measures to provide for the security and safety of lawful visitors to the property. When inadequate security for the property is provided, and a person is assaulted, attacked, or murdered, a claim of “negligent security” such as this one can arise.