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Report: UI settles with Benoit family

UPDATED: Tue., April 17, 2012, 1:33 p.m.

Katy Benoit
Katy Benoit

BOISE — University of Idaho officials and the family of a graduate student who was killed by a professor she had dated have agreed to a financial settlement in a claim against the school over the 22-year-old’s death, sources told the Associated Press on Tuesday.

A settlement would bring some closure in the wake of shootings that police have described as a murder-suicide, which horrified faculty, students and parents and brought Idaho’s oldest public university under intense scrutiny.

The terms of the agreement between Katy Benoit’s family and the school were not immediately available.

Benoit died in August after police say she was shot 11 times by Ernesto Bustamante, an assistant psychology professor with whom she had recently broken off a romantic relationship.

Police say Bustamante, after shooting Benoit, checked in at a Moscow hotel and killed himself. He had resigned from his position at the university only days earlier.

Authorities say they found six guns and medications for bipolar disorder and severe anxiety in his hotel room.

Bustamante, who had been known to alternately refer to himself as a “psychopathic killer” and “the beast,” disclosed that took medication for bipolar disorder shortly after he was hired in 2007, according to public records obtained The AP and other media outlets in October.

Benoit’s family filed a $3 million tort claim against the university in December, saying the school “negligently and recklessly” hired, retained and supervised Bustamante.

The university knew that he engaged in abusive sexual relationships with female students and “failed in its duty to prevent Bustamante’s sexual harassment of Katy Benoit,” according to the family’s claim.

Benoit complained to the university last June that Bustamante had pointed a loaded gun at her head on three separate occasions and told her he would kill her.

After the deaths, faculty leaders revised university policy to more strongly discourage relationships between faculty members. The university also worked to implement recommendations released by an independent panel in late November.

The state Board of Education was expected to consider the settlement at a meeting later this week in northern Idaho, according to two sources with knowledge of the settlement. The two people spoke on the condition of anonymity because the settlement with Benoit’s family is not yet being made public.

The family did not return a phone call Tuesday from The Associated Press.

A university spokeswoman and the state board’s executive director declined to acknowledge that a settlement had been reached.

The school said in an email Tuesday that it was policy to “refrain from specific comment and to release information only as required under the state’s public records laws.”

School officials have previously defended their response to Benoit’s complaint, saying they urged her to take safety precautions and contacted police immediately, while also complying with Benoit’s wishes. Benoit did not want officials to discuss her allegations with police, the university has said.

After Benoit died, her family was among those questioning whether the university could have done more.

There is no court record of Benoit seeking a restraining order against Bustamante, though her family has said they believed she had.

According to an agenda for the state Board of Education’s meeting in Moscow, trustees are scheduled to discuss pending litigation related to the University of Idaho on Wednesday during their executive session, which is closed to the public.

The board is then scheduled to consider approval of “the settlement agreement discussed in executive session” on Thursday, according to an agenda posted online.

The board’s staff has recommended approval of the settlement.

“Approval of the settlement will bring finality to the matter,” according to the board documents.