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Benoit family to donate settlement money

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The family of a slain graduate student will receive $375,000 as part of a settlement with the University of Idaho, according to a copy of the agreement The Associated Press obtained Friday through a public records request.

Katy Benoit’s family plans to donate the money to charitable causes, primarily through a memorial fund established after the 22-year-old’s death in August. Benoit was gunned down by a professor she had previously dated.

Under the settlement, the university will also be required to improve communication with police, work with Benoit’s family on a memorial to be placed on the Moscow campus, and make other changes.

“Money was never our sole focus in this process. It was important to us that Katy’s tragedy would instigate significant, positive changes at the University of Idaho,” the Benoit family said in a statement early Friday.

Benoit had complained to the university in June 2011 about assistant psychology professor Ernesto Bustamante, saying she ended their relationship after he pointed a loaded gun at her head on three separate occasions, threatening her life.

Bustamante resigned three days before police say he went to Benoit’s off-campus home in Moscow and shot her 11 times while she stood on her back porch. It was Aug. 22, the first day of the fall 2011 semester. After killing Benoit, police say Bustamante checked into a hotel room and fatally shot himself.

Benoit’s family filed a $3 million tort claim against the university in December.

The AP reported Tuesday that a settlement had been reached, according to two people with knowledge of the settlement who spoke on the condition of anonymity. The university and the Benoit family would not confirm or comment on the agreement at that time.

The state Board of Education approved a settlement Thursday, and details were released several hours later in a statement from university President Duane Nellis, Benoit’s parents Gary and Janet, and Benoit’s brother, Andy.

Newly elected board president Ken Edmunds issued a statement Friday morning saying, “The board members, individually and collectively, want the family to know we are profoundly sorry for their loss.”

Edmunds continued: “The board is thoroughly committed to providing a safe and supportive environment at all of Idaho’s public education institutions. We appreciate the efforts of the Benoits and the university to focus on the best interests of Idaho students. They deserve all we can do to safeguard their future.”

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.

A copy of the settlement shows that in exchange for the $375,000, Benoit’s family agreed to drop all legal claims against the university. The family noted that under Idaho’s tort claim law, any recovery in a wrongful death judgment would be limited to $500,000.

“We felt that a $375,000 settlement was fair because not only did it allow everyone to avoid a painful and expensive litigation process, it also ensured that all nonmonetary items we sought got implemented in an immediate, harmonious fashion,” the Benoits said.

“We are now only looking forward,” the family said.

As part of the settlement, the university will be required to implement a new student safety forum and make other changes. They include:

— Ensuring all reasonable allegations of violence and sexual misconduct within the university community are investigated and appropriate action taken, whether allegations are made formally in writing, informally or anonymously.

— Improving relations, communication and procedural operations between the university and the Moscow Police Department.

— Improving sexual harassment training for students, staff and faculty, with specific information on the revised policy about faculty-student relationships.

— Creating a yearly student safety forum named in Benoit’s honor.

— Working with Benoit’s family on the design and location of a memorial on the university’s main campus in Moscow.


 

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