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Eye On Boise

University releases detailed timeline in Bustamante case

Click below to read a detailed timeline released by the University of Idaho today from the hiring of former professor Ernesto Bustamante in 2007 to his murder of graduate student Katy Benoit and his subsequent suicide. The information was released pursuant to the Idaho Public Records Law; the university and news media outlets from around the state went to court for a ruling on whether a personnel records exemption blocked the release of Bustamante's employment records, and 2nd District Judge John Stegner ruled that the public's right to know outweighed any privacy concern in releasing the records.

Among the information in the timeline: Reports of Bustamante's "flirtatious behavior and favoritism" starting coming in within his first semester of teaching, prompting his department chairman to counsel him on proper faculty-student relationships;  his student evaluations in 2009 were "consistently good;" the first report to the university's Ethics and Compliance Hotline of Bustamante having sexual relationships with students including an abusive and coercive relationship with a student other than Benoit, came in December of 2010, but that purported victim refused to file a complaint and Bustamante denied any wrongdoing. Benoit complained to the university about Bustamante in June of this year, but asked to delay the serving of her formal complaint to Bustamante; it was served on him in July.

Then, on July 14, a University Threat Assessment Team was convened, including a representative of the Moscow Police Department, and Benoit was advised that investigators would interview Bustamante on July 19 and that she should stay somewhere other than her apartment to avoid contact with him. Bustamante acknowledged the relationship but denied threatening Benoit, then agreed to resign. The university sent police to Benoit's home when she missed a meeting that day; she was at school and had forgotten it. The university had five contacts with Benoit between then and Aug. 22 expressing concern about her safety, including when she attended a mandatory sexual harassment workshop for graduate students on Aug. 18. She was shot to death on Aug. 22, the same day a university official met with her to inform her that Bustamante's employment had ended Aug. 19 and to urge her remain vigilant and contact police if she had safety concerns.


The University of Idaho released this today:

Here is a timeline overview spanning Bustamante’s hiring to the homicide/suicide.

·         Aug. 12, 2007: Ernesto Bustamante starts his employment with the University of Idaho as an assistant professor of psychology. 

·         Fall 2007: During fall semester, Bustamante self-discloses to Ken Locke, psychology department chair, that Bustamante has a diagnosis of bipolar disorder that is managed through medication.

o   Fall 2007: Three or four female students share with Locke their observations of Bustamante’s “flirtatious behavior and favoritism.” Locke meets with Bustamante about the complaint; Bustamante says female students misunderstood his friendship with a student as a fellow Hispanic. Locke discusses proper faculty-student relationships.

·         Jan. 28, 2008: Bustamante’s annual performance evaluation from department chair “meets expectations.” According to Locke, student evaluations showed that “a number of students praised Ernesto for ‘trying to be the best teacher he can be.’” Locke notes that Bustamante published one refereed article and one refereed proceeding.

·         Jan. 30, 2009: Bustamante’s annual performance from department chair “meets expectations.” Department chair notes Bustamante earns instructor performance and course quality marks from his students that are similar to university averages and which “is commendable” for the type of courses he teaches. Locke also notes that Bustamante published three peer-reviewed papers; two peer-reviewed proceedings; and gave three presentations.

·         Fall 2009 and Spring 2010: Bustamante applies for positions at Michigan Tech and the University of Dayton.

·         Dec. 1, 2009: Memo from psychology department Third-Year Review Committee to Locke. The memo summarizes the committee’s thoughts regarding Bustamante’s progress toward tenure in the areas of teaching, research and service. Narrative includes:

o   Teaching: The committee finds that -- measured through student evaluations -- Bustamante’s performance in his courses is consistently good. An undergraduate research methods course, “which traditionally has received the lowest student evaluations within the department, is as good or better than the long-time averages we have seen for this course. Bustamante’s graduate level courses “are outstanding. He clearly passes or exceeds the departmental criteria for teaching” in the promotion and tenure guidelines.”

o   Research: The committee notes that Bustamante created the Cognitive Engineering & Decision Making Laboratory in 2007, an active lab. He has four peer-reviewed journal articles published since joining the university, four others under review, and a fifth with an undergraduate as first author, published in an undergraduate research journal.

o   Service: The committee notes that Bustamante transformed the previously defunct Human Factors and Ergonomics Student Chapter in a “vibrant student chapter, with the highest number of engaged student members in recent history.”

·         Dec. 4, 2009: Third-year review memo from department chair to dean, noting Bustamante’s “exemplary levels of productivity and engagement” and “has done an impressive job of making them [methods courses] rigorous yet engaging.” He notes that Bustamante “is very active professionally, as evidenced by his publication record and his numerous conference presentations.” Department chair concludes that Bustamante “should be a very strong candidate for tenure.”

·         Dec. 15, 2009: Letter from Jeanne Christiansen, vice provost for academic affairs, informs Bustamante of his nomination for the university’s annual Award for Teaching Excellence. Asks for supporting materials from Bustamante for the Teaching and Advising Committee to review.

·         March 5, 2010: Third-year review memo from College of Letters, Arts and Social Sciences (CLASS) Dean Katherine Aiken to Provost Doug Baker. Aiken notes that “Bustamante has done a good job of demonstrating to students the importance and relevance of these courses [methods classes] and his student evaluations of teaching reflect this.”  Concurred with department chair that Bustamante is “well positioned to receive tenure and promotion.” She also notes that Bustamante’s publication and presentation records are “excellent. His cognitive Engineering & Decision Making Laboratory is active and engages students in research as well.”

·         June 15, 2010: Third-year review memo from Baker to Aiken: “Dr. Bustamante should be commended for his ability to engage students in courses which are traditionally not popular. He has provided evidence that he’s becoming an independent researcher,”

·         Aug. 23, 2010: Kathryn Benoit enrolls in Bustamante’s Psychology 218 class.

·         Dec. 7, 2010: The University’s Ethics and Compliance Hotline, a contracted third-party service, receives an anonymous call claiming that Bustamante is having sexual relationships with students, including the claim of an abusive and coercive relationship with one student. Caller declines to give names; says this information had been relayed earlier that same day a university faculty member. [NOTE: The university has confirmed that Katy Benoit was not the student mentioned by the caller.]

·         Dec. 8, 2010: Aiken and Carmen Suarez, director of Human Rights, Access and Inclusion (HRAI), meet to discuss the hotline report. Aiken then meets with the faculty member mentioned by caller to discuss the hotline report. Aiken tells the faculty member that the university needs a formal complaint before an investigation can occur in this case.

·         Dec. 9, 2010: Faculty member reports to Aiken that the purported victim denies any improper behavior on Bustamante’s part and will not make a formal complaint.

·         Dec. 10, 2010: Aiken sends an e-mail requesting to meet with Bustamante.

·         Dec. 13, 2010: Aiken and Richard Reardon, associate dean of CLASS and interim assistant vice president and center executive officer for northern Idaho, meet with Bustamante regarding the hotline complaint.

o   Aiken and Reardon tell Bustamante that the University of Idaho has no tolerance for sexual harassment or retaliation. If Bustamante is indeed involved with a student, it must stop immediately.

o   Aiken discusses the implications of Bustamante’s power and influence over a student of his and of the potential third-party concerns with any student relationship, and provides him with information detailing the university’s policies on sexual harassment and retaliation.

o   Bustamante denies any violation of policy and indicates he understands the seriousness of the allegations.

·         Dec. 15, 2010: Suarez and Aiken update each other on additional details from the hotline call. They note that the student at the center of the allegations does not describe the circumstances as sexual harassment and refuses to come forward.

·         Dec. 18, 2010-Jan. 12, 2011- University Winter Break

·         Jan. 18, 2011: University’s International Programs Office (IPO) contacts Nelson about problems dealing Bustamante in connection with his work authorization and visa.

·         Jan. 19, 2011: Nelson instructs Bustamante to direct all questions to him,        not IPO.

·         Feb. 15, 2011: Annual performance evaluation by department chair “meets expectations.” Locke notes that student comments show that Bustamante’s students “clearly respected his intelligence and his genuine efforts to promote their learning and understanding.” Locke notes that Bustamante had one article published; had four peer-reviewed conference proceedings; and gave one presentation.

·         March 12-21: University Spring Break

·         April 24, 2011: Letter from Aiken to Bustamante awarding him a university early career research fellowship for his proposal “Preventing Rear-End Collisions: Evaluation of a Graded Deceleration Display”.

·         May 1, 2011: Bustamante e-mails Locke and states that he is experiencing significant withdrawal symptoms due to a change in his main medication. Locke follows up with Bustamante, encourages him to seek medical attention, and requests that he keep him [Locke] informed.

·         May 11, 2011:  University Spring Semester Ends

·         June 10, 2011: Benoit’s first contact with the university -- through HRAI -- regarding her complaint against Bustamante. Based on this first discussion, Suarez asks Benoit to submit a written complaint, which begins the university’s formal process of responding to a complaint. Suarez outlines formal complaint process for Benoit. Suarez urges Benoit to take safety precautions and contact Moscow Police Department (MPD). Suarez provides Benoit with personal contact information for MPD and Alternatives to Violence of the Palouse (ATVP) for assistance beyond those the university offers. Nelson also contacts Moscow Police Department directly.

·         June 12, 2011: Suarez receives initial draft, via e-mail, of Benoit’s           complaint in writing.

·         June 13, 2011: Benoit sends e-mail to Suarez indicating she has            contacted MPD.

o   June 13, 2011: Suarez replies to Benoit, again urges her to             contact ATVP. Per Benoit’s request, Suarez provides her with reference information for an attorney should Benoit wish to pursue an order of protection.

o   June 13, 2011: Benoit e-mails Suarez with thanks for lawyer referral.

o   June 13: Aiken meets with Provost Baker to report on the        Bustamante situation and outline immediate next steps in the         process following the complaint.

·         June 14, 2011: Benoit sends e-mail to Mo Hendrickson, HRAI human rights compliance assistant, saying she does not want Bustamante served with her complaint until a further discussion with HRAI. She indicates she will come in the next day.

·         June 16, 2011: When Benoit does not come in on June 15, Hendrickson sends an e-mail to her to encourage her to come in for the follow-up meeting.

o   June 16, 2011: Benoit comes in to HRAI for follow-up meeting with Hendrickson, who assures her that Bustamante will not receive Benoit’s complaint until Benoit gives her permission. Hendrickson again refers Benoit to ATVP and, since the university can’t provide her with legal counsel, refers Benoit to the Latah County Court Assistance Program. Benoit indicates she has already been to ATVP and the organization has been helpful and indicates she will time an order of protection to coincide with when the complaint is given to Bustamante.

·         June 30, 2011: Suarez receives e-mail from Benoit apologizing for being out      of touch. Benoit writes she had been out of town and will be gone again the    next week.

·         July 5, 2011: Suarez talks with Benoit on the phone; Benoit gives permission to Suarez to deliver the complaint to Bustamante. She will let Benoit know as soon as the formal complaint is sent. Suarez reiterates the importance of Benoit’s safety and to seek help as needed. Suarez says the university will direct Bustamante to have no contact with Benoit and for Benoit to let the university know immediately if he does attempt to contact her, or to call 911 if she feels threatened.

·         July 6, 2011: Suarez delivers the complaint letter via e-mail to Bustamante and mails a copy to his home address. The letter outlines the content of Benoit’s formal complaint; it directs Bustamante to have no contact with Benoit, and proposes an in-person meeting for HRAI with Bustamante on July 8.

o   July 6, 2011: Bustamante e-mails that he will be out of town and cannot meet on July 8. Suarez responds with alternate meeting times; Bustamante agrees to meet on July 19.

o   July 6, 2011: Suarez e-mails Benoit with confirmation that complaint has been sent to Bustamante and reiterates that “if you feel in any way scared or threatened, that you call the police.”

o   July 6, 2011: Suarez requests security measures as precaution for scheduled meeting with Bustamante.

·         July 7, 2011: Suarez calls Benoit to check on her well-being and about steps taken to date following delivery of the complaint.

·         July 9, 2011: Benoit e-mails Suarez to say she is out of town until July 13.

·         July 11, 2011: Aiken forwards Benoit’s complaint to Locke.

o   July 11, 2011: Bustamante e-mails Suarez his response to the complaint, in which he denies Benoit’s allegations.

·         July 14, 2011: University Threat Assessment Team, which includes Moscow Police Department representative, meets to assess the level of the safety risk for Benoit and others involved in the university’s complaint investigation.

o   July 14, 2011: Suarez and Hendrickson meet with Benoit to review Bustamante’s response to the complaint and let Benoit know that university investigators would interview Bustamante on July 19. The interview meeting is considered a high-risk point because of the nature of Benoit’s allegations, so recommendation is made for Benoit stay somewhere other than her apartment to avoid contact

·         July 18, 2011: Suarez e-mails Gary Williams, chair of English department and co-investigator, in preparation for July 19 interview with Bustamante.

o   July 18, 2011: Suarez calls Benoit to check on her well-being and reminds her of the July 19 interview scheduled with Bustamante.

·         July 19, 2011: Suarez and Williams conduct in-person interview with Bustamante and outline how the investigation will proceed. During the interview, Bustamante: admits to a sexual relationship with Benoit; denies that he has a Utah concealed weapons permit; denies that he threatened Benoit with a weapon; denies that he carries a firearm on campus; admits to having sexual relationships with other students who are not his advisees or students; denies hotline call claims; denies being told by Aiken and Reardon in December 2010 that having intimate relationships with his students is wrong; claims that Benoit has no basis for her complaint. Bustamante asks what would happen if he resigns; Suarez states the process would stop due to the lack of a respondent [Bustamante] to the complaint and because Bustamante has already admitted to a sexual relationship with Benoit.

o   July 19, Aiken is scheduled to meet with Benoit; when Benoit does not show up for the meeting, Aiken notifies Nelson, who contacts MPD, which dispatches officers to Benoit’s home address. She is not home.

o   July 19, 2011: Following the meeting with Bustamante, Suarez is told that Benoit cannot be found. Suarez calls Benoit’s cell phone to check on her well-being. Benoit says she is at school, but double-booked appointments and has forgotten the meeting with Aiken.

o   July 19, 2011: Bustamante e-mails intention to resign to Locke.

·         July 20, 2011: Locke e-mails Bustamante to express concern for Bustamante and reminds him of counseling benefits available through Employee Assistance Program.

o   July 20, 2011: Bustamante e-mails students and colleagues and states his resignation.

o   July 20, 2011: Aiken meets with Benoit to resolve issue of an incomplete grade from Bustamante. Aiken also reminds Benoit about the importance of keeping safe.

·         July 22, 2011: Suarez calls Benoit to ask where she will be until the start of school. Benoit says she will be in Moscow. Suarez encourages her to continue to take safety precautions, including contacting MPD and ATVP.

o   July 22, 2011: Aiken emails Bustamante and states that acceptance of his resignation would require specific conditions, including his agreement to teach out his summer session distance and online courses; to vacate university office and return any university property; to vacate his office; and to not come to campus without notifying his supervisor. University would agree to stop the investigation process arising from Benoit’s complaint.

o   July 22, 2011: Bustamante e-mails Aiken that he agrees to the conditions.

·         Aug. 2, 2011: Hoey Graham, senior associate general counsel, e-mails Bustamante to confirm meeting with Aiken.

·         Aug. 3: Graham and Aiken meet with Bustamante to review the separation agreement.

·         Aug. 5, 2011: Bustamante delivers signed separation, which includes his agreement to have limited access to his office and laboratory, and then only accompanied by Locke for purposes of removing personal items, and no access after Aug. 9.

·         Aug. 8, 2011: Aiken meets with Benoit to wish her well in her graduate studies; reminds her to be safe and to call 911 if Benoit has any concerns for her safety.

·         Aug. 8, 2011: Duane Nellis, president, signs Bustamante’s separation agreement.

·         Aug.  9, 2011: Ron Smith, vice president for finance, signs Bustamante’s separation agreement.

o   Aug. 9, 2011: Bustamante e-mails Locke that he [Bustamante] will clear his belongings out of his office late in the day. Locke supervises the office clean out that afternoon.

·         Aug. 18, 2011: Suarez teaches mandatory sexual harassment workshop for graduate students; Benoit attends. After the workshop, Suarez asks Benoit about her well-being.

·         Aug. 22, 2011 – Beginning of University Fall Semester

·         Aug. 22, 2011: Suarez meets with Benoit and informs her that Bustamante’s contract with the university formally concluded on Aug. 19.  Suarez cautions Benoit to remain vigilant and get assistance from the police and others if she has safety concerns. She also encourages Benoit to remain in contact with university representatives and to take advantage of university support services.

o   Aug. 22-23, 2011: Benoit/Bustamante homicide/suicide.

Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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