Docs: Idaho prof talked about shooting students

AP News
Posted: Oct 28, 2011 12:39 AM
Docs: Idaho prof talked about shooting students

A University of Idaho professor who committed suicide after killing a graduate student he had dated previously talked about shooting students in his classroom and was targeted in a complaint alleging he was engaging in "sex orgies" with students, according to newly released documents.

The slain graduate student, Katy Benoit, 22, complained to university officials in June that assistant psychology professor Ernesto Bustamante had pointed a gun at her three times. Benoit was urged to take safety precautions and go to police.

Another student evaluating Bustamante last fall complained his teaching was erratic and that he had discussed shooting students. In December, a complaint called into a university hotline accused Bustamante of having sex with students and coercing one into having sex with him and others.

University officials have defended their response to Benoit's complaint, saying they contacted Moscow police immediately after she came forward. They told law enforcement that a student had been involved in a domestic violence issue but did not detail Benoit's allegations, including claims she was threatened with a gun.

Benoit "did not want us to discuss the allegations in her complaint with police and we honored her wishes," the university said in a statement Thursday.

University spokeswoman Tania Thompson said under school policy, Bustamante first had a chance to respond to the complaint, which he was served in early July after university officials received permission from Benoit.

"He, at that point, has a right to respond to those allegations," Thompson said in an interview with The Associated Press.

Bustamante denied Benoit's allegations and told administrators that they had a friendship that had dissolved after she stole prescription pills from him. Benoit later told university officials she "screwed up" the relationship by stealing the pills, but she was really scared after he threatened her with a gun.

Bustamante resigned his position effective Aug. 19, and three days later, police said he shot Benoit nearly a dozen times outside her Moscow home. Bustamante committed suicide in a hotel room shortly after shooting Benoit and was found with six guns and medications for bipolar disorder and severe anxiety, police said.

Bustamante, who had been known to alternately refer to himself as a "psychopathic killer" and "the beast," disclosed he took medication for bipolar disorder shortly after he was hired in 2007. As early as the fall of his first semester, three or four students went to psychology department chairman Ken Locke to express concerns about Bustamante's behavior, saying he was "flirtatious" and showed favoritism to students.

Benoit had met Bustamante in the fall of 2010 when she took a psychology course he was teaching, and by the end of the semester, they were dating.

During student evaluations of Bustamante that fall, another student complained about the professor's behavior.

"He talked about shooting students, which was disturbing, and implied that he was (and we should be) drunk and high every other day," said the student, who is not identified in the teaching evaluations.

The university acknowledged that certain items in the documents, including this student's comment, were troublesome in hindsight.

"In this case, the department chair did discuss with Bustamante his concerns regarding comments he had received from students about his classroom behavior," the university said in a statement.

In December 2010, Bustamante met with administrators to discuss a complaint that an anonymous caller put into a university hotline, saying Bustamante was having sexual relationships with students. The call reported that one of these relationships had become mentally abusive and the student had been coerced by Bustamante into having sex with other people.

"They have also gotten into sexual orgies," the caller said, according to a copy of the hotline complaint.

The student at the center of the abuse allegations was not Benoit and denied that Bustamante had exhibited improper behavior, refusing to file a complaint against him. Bustamante denied any violations of university policy during a Dec. 13meeting with university administrator.

The student's name was not mentioned during the meeting, but she later informed administrators that Bustamante had called her immediately afterward and warned her that the dean of the college might make inquiries regarding a sexual harassment complaint.

Benoit's relationship with Bustamante ended in May, after he put a gun to her head a third time and told her how he would use it to kill her. He had informed the chairman of his department April 30 that was experiencing withdrawal symptoms due to a change in his medication.

Benoit told a university official investigating her complaint that she suffered from bipolar disorder, according to the records.

"From time to time, Katy dealt with depression. We do not know if the label of bipolar was something Katy believed she had or not. We do know that Katy faced her challenges in life with courage and dignity," the family said in a written statement Thursday night.

A judge on Oct. 3 ordered Bustamante's personnel records released after the university, Idaho newspapers, the Idaho Press Club and the AP petitioned the court to rule they were a matter of public record.


Associated Press writers Rebecca Boone and John Miller contributed to this report.