March 10, 2012 in City

Katy Benoit’s family seeks millions from University of Idaho

Patrick Orr Idaho Statesman
 

Katy Benoit
(Full-size photo)

What happened?

 On Aug. 22, police say, Ernesto Bustamante tracked down Katy Benoit and shot her 11 times as she stood on her porch smoking a cigarette, while her two roommates were inside baking cookies.

 Bustamante had resigned only three days before, following Benoit’s complaints to University of Idaho officials earlier in the summer about sexual harassment.

 Bustamante was a professor in the psychology department where Benoit had enrolled as a graduate student.

 The two had a romantic relationship that ended by the summer of 2011 because of Bustamante’s violent behavior, which included pointing a loaded gun at Benoit at least three times, according to court records and police reports.

 After killing Benoit, Bustamante killed himself the next morning in a Moscow hotel room, where police found six handguns and several types of prescription medication – including drugs for sleep disorders, anxiety, bipolar disorder and major depressive disorder.

The family of a University of Idaho student killed by a professor last summer is pursuing a $3 million claim against the school.

By filing their claim with the state, Katy Benoit’s family has taken the first step toward suing the University of Idaho over their daughter’s shooting by former professor and lover Ernesto Bustamante.

The Boise family’s tort claim puts the university on notice of damages the family could seek in court.

The claim was filed Dec. 8; the university did not file a response within 90 days, which means the Benoits are free to file a lawsuit against the college. As of Friday afternoon, however, they had not done so.

University officials declined comment Friday. A lawyer for the Benoit family did not respond to a request for comment and details about the allegations in the claim.

Moscow police say 31-year-old Bustamante shot and killed 22-year-old Benoit at her off-campus home on Aug. 22 – the first day of fall classes for the university – and then killed himself the next morning.

The murder-suicide shocked faculty and students and brought the state’s oldest public university under intense scrutiny as details emerged about the relationship – and how the university responded after Benoit filed a complaint about Bustamante earlier that year.

Following the shooting, the school toughened its policies on student-faculty relationships and asked for a review from an independent panel that included a former Idaho Supreme Court justice. University President M. Duane Nellis released tens of thousands of university, personnel and student records about the case and the university’s handling of it.

The family’s tort claim says the university “negligently and recklessly” hired, retained and supervised Bustamante and “recklessly failed in its duty to protect Katy Benoit from Bustamante.”

The claim also says the university failed to:

• Prevent Bustamante’s sexual harassment of Benoit.

• Fully inform law enforcement of the danger Bustamante presented.

• Require Bustamante to obtain mental health care “at a time when he was in obvious need of such care.”

The family also says Bustamante “presented clear and present danger to young female students over whom he exercised supervision and authority.”

The claim says school officials had been advised that Bustamante:

• Claimed to have five different personalities, including “The Beast” and “The Psychopathic Killer.”

• Carried firearms at all times, which was a violation of campus policies.

• Claimed to have “murdered 50 people in his younger years.”

• Talked to his classes about shooting and killing students.

• Was sexually involved with female students over at least three years, including “abusive and coercive sexual relationships, including orgies.” That allegation has not been cited publicly before now, and the claim did not explain or cite a source of that information.

The claim says the family has incurred damages of “an unknown amount,” but for the purposes of complying with state law put the damages at $3 million.

When asked in November if the Benoit family planned to file a lawsuit, they issued a statement that said, in part, “We informed the university several weeks ago that we have retained legal representation. … Our intention is to bring as much good from this situation as possible and to ensure that positive changes are made so that future students are safe and respected, and that this kind of tragedy never happens again.”

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