Appellate judges uphold firing of Winston-Salem State football coach

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  • The N.C. Court of Appeals has upheld Winston-Salem State University's 2019 firing of head football coach Kienus Boulware. Boulware had argued that the university failed to follow proper procedures in dismissing him.
  • The dismissal stemmed from a 2019 fight between two football players that extended from practice to their dorm room. Boulware had been warned that a gun might be involved, but he never reported the incident to campus police.
  • WSSU officials argued that Boulware failed to comply with his contractual duties as a "campus security authority."

A unanimous N.C. Court of Appeals panel has upheld the 2019 firing of Winston-Salem State University football coach Kienus Boulware. The coach had argued that WSSU had failed to follow proper procedure when dismissing him from the job.

“Boulware fails to identify any conflicts in the evidence or testimony and does not challenge the sufficiency of the evidence as not supporting any specific findings of fact,” wrote Judge John Tyson.

Boulware started work at Winston-Salem State in 2010 and served as head football coach for five years. He was working under a four-year contract running through 2020 when the university fired him.

The dismissal stemmed from an April 2019 incident involving two players who fought at a football practice. The fight resumed later that day in the players’ dorm room.

While traveling to the dorm, Boulware learned from one of the players’ fathers that a gun might be involved. The coach and an assistant arrived at the dorm, “engaged with the players, but did not contact WSSU Police,” Tyson wrote.

“The players were asked if there was a gun in the room. All answered no, and no formal search occurred,” according to the Appeals Court opinion. “A bag with a substance, possibly marijuana, was found in the room, but no gun was seen. Boulware gave the bag to the student’s father, who had arrived, and he disposed of it. Boulware attempted to inform the Athletic Director, but he could not reach him. He never informed the WSSU Police Department or the Director of Athletics, instead contacting only the Office of Student Conduct.”

Part of Boulware’s contract involved serving as a “campus security authority.” That job involved helping the university comply with the Clery Act, “which tasks universities with reporting crimes and keeping a public crime log.” University officials argued Boulware should have contacted campus police about the possible gun.

“Boulware argues the Final Decision to terminate his employment was not supported by substantial evidence because all decisions were based on a misapprehension of law,” Tyson wrote. The coach also argued that Winston-Salem State changed the reason for dismissing his appeals as the case was proceeding.

“He argues WSSU relied upon a misapprehension of The Clery Act as a basis for their argument against him, and substantial evidence does not exist to support the Board’s decision. Substantial evidence tends to show Boulware engaged in a significant violation of his assigned contractual duties,” Tyson wrote. “Boulware signed his CSA training letter on 7 November 2019 and acknowledged his awareness and understanding of his duty to immediately report any ongoing threats to the university’s police department even if unsure whether an ongoing threat existed.”

“Boulware testified he was aware of the possibility of a gun being involved in the altercation between his players, yet instead of contacting law enforcement, he engaged with numerous people, including the agitated players and the father of one of the players inside the dorm for over two hours,” Tyson added. “Despite being made aware of the potential presence of a gun, Boulware never searched for one nor informed university police of this allegation. This testimony alone is a substantial violation, and his failure to comply risked serious harm or even death of students, staff, or the public.”

“Clear and substantial evidence of a violation of Boulware’s contractual obligations was presented and substantiated his termination,” Tyson wrote.

Judges Hunter Murphy and Michael Stading joined Tyson’s opinion.