This past May, Harvard University became the target of a wrongful death suit for the 2009 shooting of Justin D. C. D. Cosby, a Cambridge resident, in the basement of Kirkland House. The person eventually accused of the shooting, Jabrai Jordan Copney, had been living in Lowell House with his girlfriend, Brittany J. Smith, for most of the year before the shooting, despite Harvard’s prohibition against non-Harvard affiliated persons living in the dormitories. Harvard’s negligence in enforcing its own policy became the grounds upon which Cosby’s mother brought the suit, stating that there was a chance that her son’s death could have been prevented had the resident dean of Lowell and the two Lowell House Masters—all defendants in her suit—been more attentive.
Harvard recently filed a motion to have the suit dropped, claiming that there was not sufficient grounds to support it. In a memorandum, the University listed many reasons that Harvard should not be held accountable, with the underlying sentiment being that Harvard cannot be held legally responsible for the fates and for the actions of non-Harvard affiliates.
Though Lowell House administrators did show a marked neglect of Harvard’s policies in overlooking Copney’s presence in the House, Harvard cannot be held responsible for a crime upon which it had no proximate influence. It is true that Copney violated a Harvard rule by living in Lowell House and that the crime was largely a result of Cosby’s relationship with members of the Harvard community, but there is nothing to suggest that Cosby would not have been shot had Copney been staying elsewhere. Copney was sufficiently enmeshed in the Harvard community that had he been living somewhere in Greater Boston, chances are that he would still have spent a good deal of time on Harvard’s campus, would still have had swipe access to the dorms due to his relationship, and this crime still could have taken place. Though Harvard’s negligence in enforcing its dormitory policy did indeed facilitate the crime, it cannot be said to have contributed to the crime in a very meaningful way.
Furthermore, we cannot expect Harvard to be able to regulate everything that happens on campus. We are an urban campus that is not physically isolated from the larger community, and as such the administration has a lack of control over the campus that would not be true were the campus more contained and located further from a city center.
Of course Cosby’s death was tragic, and his mother has every reason for wanting to see justice achieved for her son. However, the three men charged for Cosby’s murder are already behind bars, and there is no reason to bring a lawsuit against a second party. As a result, ultimately the only sensible course of action that the judge can take is dismissal of the suit.