Police unaware of gun threat on Idaho student

AP News
Posted: Oct 28, 2011 2:07 PM
Police unaware of gun threat on Idaho student

Police didn't know about alleged gun threats a University of Idaho professor made against a graduate student until after he shot and killed her, Moscow Police Chief David Duke told The Associated Press on Friday.

Katy Benoit complained to the university in June that assistant psychology professor Ernesto Bustamante had pointed a loaded gun at her head on three separate occasions and detailed the manner in which he would use it.

The university urged Benoit to take safety precautions and go to police.

Duke said in an interview with the AP that his agency didn't learn about the gun threats until finding a copy of Benoit's complaint in the hotel room where Bustamante killed himself after shooting Benoit 11 times outside her Moscow home Aug. 22.

Police also found six guns and medications for bipolar disorder and severe anxiety in the hotel room where Bustamante committed suicide.

There was nothing in the law that required the university to report the alleged threats that Benoit made in her June complaint, Duke said.

"There is no statute that required the university to disclose criminal behavior in this case," he said.

Idaho laws regarding the mandatory reporting of suspected crimes do not apply in the case, said Latah County Prosecutor Bill Thompson.

"The only thing that would even come close is the accessory statute that says a person can't knowingly withhold information from an investigating law enforcement officer," Thompson said. "At this point, I haven't been provided with anything that shows there was a violation of Idaho's accessory statue."

University officials have defended their response to Benoit's complaint, saying they contacted police immediately and said a student had been involved in a domestic violence issue, but they did not detail Benoit's allegations, including claims she was threatened with a gun.

"We had been told that there had been a complaint filed by a student against a faculty member and in that complaint there was indication that there were allegations of threatening behavior, but there were no details," Duke said.

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

Benoit did contact police June 10, after bringing her concerns to university officials, and was advised on basic safety measures.

University officials said they involved police July 14 in a threat assessment team that came together more than a month after Benoit brought her concerns forward on June 10. 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.

Bustamante was directed to have no contact with Benoit.

"He, at that point, has a right to respond to those allegations," Thompson said Thursday.

Bustamante denied Benoit's allegations and told administrators that they had a friendship that 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.

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

"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," Benoit's family said in a written statement Thursday night.

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 expressed concerns about Bustamante's behavior, saying he was "flirtatious" and showed favoritism to students.

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, according to Benoit's complaint. Bustamante had informed the chairman of his department April 30 that he was experiencing withdrawal symptoms due to a change in his medication.

Bustamante resigned his position effective Aug. 19, and three days later, police said he shot Benoit and killed himself.

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.