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UI counseled Benoit on day of her death

Sat., Aug. 27, 2011

Student made first complaint against professor in June

The University of Idaho had worked for more than two months to offer advice and help to Kathryn “Katy” Benoit after she first complained about her relationship with the professor who police say eventually killed her.

That contact included a visit with Benoit the day she was shot 11 times.

UI President M. Duane Nellis broke the school’s silence Friday about Benoit’s troubled relationship with former assistant professor Ernesto Bustamante. The school released a detailed timeline of the steps university officials took to protect Benoit, 22, who was killed Monday evening outside her Moscow apartment.

“This tragic situation has brought a profound sadness to our entire community,” Nellis said in the news release. “We must continue to do everything we can to protect our students and our campus community. For that reason, I am asking for an independent review of the university’s policies and procedures to ensure that we are doing the very best job we possibly can.”

Nellis wrote that the university “is committed to full public disclosure of all related documents, as it gains authority to release them.

“Our hearts and prayers go out to the family of Katy Benoit,” Nellis continued. “We understand their desire to have a full accounting of the circumstances that led to Katy’s death. I intend to do everything I can to answer their questions. A tragedy has occurred and we all want answers.”

In a separate news release Friday, Moscow police said the search of the hotel room where Bustamante is believed to have committed suicide turned up six guns, including the .45-caliber pistol they believe he used to shoot Benoit. They also found several prescription medications used to treat depression, extreme anxiety and bipolar disorder.

According to the details released by the university, school officials first learned of Benoit’s intimate relationship with Bustamante and his alleged threats against her on June 10. At that time, the officials – who were not named by the university – urged Benoit to take safety precautions and contact the Moscow Police Department. They also provided her with personal contact information for police and directed her to an organization that helps victims of domestic violence.

The “university also contacted (the) Moscow Police Department directly,” according to the news release.

The police statement indicated that Benoit spoke on June 10 with Lt. Dave Lehmitz, who discussed safety techniques with her and told her to call the police if she felt threatened.

Two days later, Moscow police said, Benoit filed a sexual-harassment complaint with the university.

“In the complaint it was alleged that threats of violence occurred on three separate occasions where Professor Bustamante held a gun to her head and detailed the manner in which he would use it,” according to the Police Department.

The first time Bustamante threatened Benoit was at the end of January 2011. The second occurred during spring break, and the third occurred the second week of May, at which time Benoit broke off the relationship, police said.

Bustamante filed a formal complaint of his own on July 8, according to the Moscow police, alleging that Benoit was trying to defame his character. He disclosed a personal relationship with Benoit, which police learned began in fall 2010 while she was a student in his psychology class.

On Monday, the day she was killed, school officials met with Benoit to inform her that Bustamante’s last day of employment had been the previous Friday. “She was cautioned to remain vigilant and get assistance from the police and others if she had any safety concerns,” the university news release said. The university’s notes do not indicate the time at which school officials met with Benoit on Monday, but she was killed outside her apartment at 8:40 p.m.

The university previously indicated that Bustamante was allowed to resign effective Aug. 19. Moscow police said they found records indicating that “Bustamante had secured employment in the state of New Jersey and was in the process of relocating.” He planned to move Aug. 24, the release said.

Nellis said he was allowed to release Benoit’s records after a review of Idaho law showed that the university’s obligation to protect her records ended with her death.

But university attorneys were uncertain whether the same law protects Bustamante’s personnel records after his death. “To clarify how public records statutes should be applied to this situation, the university will ask for a legal determination from the courts regarding what records it could release related to Bustamante,” the release said.

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