University investigating policies, going to court about slain student records


by Jamie Grey

Posted on August 27, 2011 at 1:28 PM

Updated Saturday, Aug 27 at 1:42 PM

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MOSCOW --  For the first time since a student was murdered Monday night, University of Idaho President Duane Nellis explained Friday afternoon why certain details are just now coming out and why others remain sealed.

On Friday, Moscow Police and University of Idaho officials revealed details of what they knew in the months leading up to Katy Benoit's murder.  She was gunned down Monday night, but months ago, she'd filed a complaint with the school against the professor police say pulled the trigger, Ernesto Bustamante.

One fact revealed early on:  As a result of Benoit's complaint, Bustamante had resigned from the university last Friday.  But until Friday, the university wouldn't explain how it dealt with Benoit's concerns over the summer.  Nellis said they were being cautious as to not violate Benoit's personal rights.

"I am committed to full disclosure.  Truly committed to full disclosure; however, I am also constrained by the law," Nellis said.

When Nellis addressed the media on Friday, he explained some information about Benoit is now coming out because the U.S. Department of Education said it was appropriate and did not violate her rights.

Between timelines released by the university and police, here is what we now know:

Fall 2010 -- Benoit met Bustamante when she had him as a professor for a psychology course, and the two began a sexual relationship.
January-May 2011 -- On three occasions during that relationship, Bustamante threatened Benoit with a gun.
May 2011 -- The last time Benoit alleged Bustamante threatened her.  That ended their relationship.
June 2011 -- Benoit filed a sexual harassment complaint against Bustamante, which began three months of frequent communication with police and university officials. Bustamante denied Benoit's claims of violence and sexual harassment.
August 18, 2011 -- Bustamante resigned because of the complaint.
August 22, 2011 -- Benoit met with the university.  Officials told her Bustamante no longer worked at the school and cautioned her to get help from police if she had safety concerns.  She was murdered later that day.

Nellis says he's actively working on publicizing all information the school has about Katy Benoit and Ernesto Bustamante.  He says the school's attorney will file a motion on Monday to ask a judge to okay the release of more information, including records and documents related to Bustamante.

"My hope is that the court will provide a ruling that removes the legal constraints that currently keep us from releasing relevant personnel documents," Nellis said. "When we can say more, we certainly will do that.  You can be assured that that will happen."

In addition to getting a judge's opinion on the release of those records, Nellis has ordered a complete independent review of all university policies and procedures related to safety and security, though he noted his belief that current policies are adequate.

"I don't have any reason to think our policies and procedures are not all that they should be, but I want to be absolutely certain.  I'm committed to ensuring the continuing safety and welfare of members of our university community," Nellis said.

Earlier this week, Benoit's family called on the university to be 'forthcoming' and release all information about how the university handled Benoit's complaint over the summer.

"I want the Benoits and all of you to know that the actions I've taken today underscore how seriously I take student safety," Nellis said Friday.