BOISE – Police didn’t know about alleged gun threats a University of Idaho professor made against a graduate student until after he shot and killed her, Moscow Police Chief David Duke told the Associated Press on Friday.
Katy Benoit complained to the university in June that assistant psychology professor Ernesto Bustamante had pointed a loaded gun at her head on three separate occasions and detailed the manner in which he would use it. The university urged Benoit to take safety precautions and go to police.
Duke said in an interview with the AP that his agency didn’t learn about the gun threats until finding a copy of Benoit’s complaint in the hotel room where Bustamante killed himself after shooting her 11 times outside her Moscow home Aug. 22.
Bustamante had resigned from his position at the university days earlier. Along with the documents, police also found six guns and medications for bipolar disorder and severe anxiety in his hotel room.
The university and Benoit first contacted police June 10, but they did not detail Benoit’s allegations.
“We had been told that there had been a complaint filed by a student against a faculty member and in that complaint there was indication that there were allegations of threatening behavior, but there were no details,” Duke said.
There was nothing in the law that required the university to report the threats that Benoit alleged in her June complaint, authorities said. Idaho laws regarding the mandatory reporting of suspected crimes do not apply in the case, said Latah County Prosecutor Bill Thompson.
“The only thing that would even come close is the accessory statute that says a person can’t knowingly withhold information from an investigating law enforcement officer,” Thompson said. “At this point, I haven’t been provided with anything that shows there was a violation of Idaho’s accessory statue.”
University officials have defended their response to Benoit’s complaint, saying they contacted police immediately and complied with her wishes. Benoit did not want officials to discuss her allegations with police, the university has said.
In the wake of the murder-suicide, Benoit’s family is among those questioning whether the university could have done more. There is, however, no court record of Benoit seeking a restraining order against Bustamante, though her family has said they believed she had.
“We are greatly disappointed in the university’s repeated failure to fully disclose everything it knows about Bustamante. Privately, over the past several weeks, we’ve continued to hear more and more Bustamante issues that the University is not sharing,” the family said in statement late Thursday.
The university said Friday it has released all relevant documents and is considering policy changes in the wake of the tragedy.
“From the beginning, we have been committed to transparency and full disclosure and we have followed up on that promise,” the university said in a statement.
Police were involved July 14 in a threat assessment team that the university pulled together more than a month after Benoit’s complaint. But again, the details of the gun threats didn’t come out.
University spokeswoman Tania Thompson said Thursday that under school policy, Bustamante first had a chance to respond to the complaint, which he was served on July 6 after university officials received permission from Benoit. That day, Bustamante used MapQuest to get directions to the home of Benoit’s parents in Boise, according to university computer records obtained by the AP and other media outlets.
Bustamante had been directed to have no contact with Benoit and it’s unclear if he made the trip.
He denied Benoit’s allegations and claimed they had a friendship that dissolved after she stole prescription pills from him. Benoit later told university officials she “screwed up” the relationship by stealing the pills, but she was scared after he threatened her with a gun.
Bustamante, who had been known to alternately refer to himself as a “psychopathic killer” and “the beast,” disclosed he took medication for bipolar disorder shortly after he was hired in 2007. Bustamante informed his department April 30 that he was experiencing withdrawal symptoms due to a change in his medication
Benoit’s relationship with Bustamante ended in May after he put a gun to her head a third time and threatened to kill her, according to Benoit’s complaint. Benoit told a university official investigating her complaint that she suffered from bipolar disorder, according to school records.
“From time to time, Katy dealt with depression. We do not know if the label of bipolar was something Katy believed she had or not,” Benoit’s family said.