MOSCOW, Idaho -- The University of Idaho dramatically changed course Friday, releasing an avalanche of information about how it tried to ensure the safety of graduate student Katy Benoit in the months before she was shot to death Monday.
Those efforts included contacting the police, counseling Benoit to do the same and giving her contact information for a domestic violence support group.
The Moscow Police Department also released a trove of new information, including a list of psychiatric medications and weapons found in shooter Ernesto Bustamante's hotel room after he killed himself early Tuesday morning.
And UI President Duane Nellis announced the university will seek a court ruling Monday allowing the release of Bustamante's employment records while he was an assistant professor, and instigate a "top-to-bottom" assessment of university security.
"We must do everything we can to protect our students and our campus community," Nellis said. "For that reason, I am asking for an independent review of the university's policies and procedures to ensure that we are doing the very best job we possibly can."
Earlier this week, court documents revealed Benoit had filed a formal complaint in June with the university about Bustamante, with whom she had a previous sexual relationship. After the relationship began to deteriorate, Bustamante threatened Benoit with a gun on three separate occasions, according to police.
The university underwent days of public scrutiny when it declined to disclose details of its response to Benoit's complaint, citing a fear of violating Benoit's privacy rights.
But after obtaining guidance from the U.S. Department of Education indicating confidentiality of student records does not extend after a student's death, the university released a detailed timeline of its actions, Nellis said during a Friday news conference.
The university made its first contact with Benoit to discuss her complaint against Bustamante on June 10, and urged her to take safety precautions and to contact police. It gave her personal contact information for the police department and Alternatives to Violence of the Palouse, and itself contacted police directly.
Four days later, Benoit emailed the university to say she didn't want Bustamante served with her complaint before discussing it further with the university.
The university informed Benoit in a July 6 email her complaint had been sent to Bustamante, along with a letter detailing possible policy violations. "It had been held until this date at her request," the UI said in its timeline. The university also reiterated the importance of seeking the help of law enforcement or others if she felt the need.
The July 6 email also notified Benoit the university had told Bustamante to have no further contact with Benoit, and asked her to notify the university immediately if he did attempt to contact her.
A university threat assessment team met July 14 with a representative of the Moscow police to assess the level of safety risk for Benoit and others involved in the investigation. On the same day, university investigators met with Benoit to review Bustamante's response to the complaint, and to notify her they would meet with Bustamante July 19.
"This was considered a high-risk point so recommendation was made she stay somewhere other than her apartment to avoid contact," according to the UI release.
Also on July 14, the university told police Benoit did not want law enforcement involvement, according to information released by the Moscow Police Department.
One month before she was killed, the university called Benoit to ask where she would be until the start of school. Benoit replied she would be in Moscow, and the university encouraged her to continue taking safety precautions, including contacting police if necessary.
The day she died, the university met with Benoit to inform her Bustamante's last day of Employment was Aug. 19.
"She was cautioned to remain vigilant and get assistance from the police and others if she had any safety concerns," the release reads. "University also encouraged Benoit to remain in contact with university representatives and to take advantage of university support services."
The revelations in the timeline release seemed to contradict previous statements by Moscow police it had never heard of the assaults Bustamante committed against Benoit until the evening it began investigating her killing.
But Lt. Dave Lehmitz stood by those statements, saying his personal contact on June 10 with Benoit and another officer's attendance at the threat assessment meeting was just to give generic safety advice to her and the university regarding safety.
"I get probably two to three calls like this a week," Lehmitz said Friday, saying he advises women to do things like make sure their windows and doors are locked and their exterior lights are on, and to always carry a charged cell phone. "It changes if they decide they want to report a crime."
He said Benoit did not disclose the assaults Bustamante committed against her.
And at the threat assessment meeting, Moscow police Cpl. Lindsay McIntosh was not present if and when the assaults were discussed, Lehmitz said.
"We go into these (types of meetings) to give advice," he said. "A majority of the time we leave because they (university officials) have to continue to talk because they're dealing with a personnel matter."
The information released by police Friday also included a timeline gleaned from documents Bustamante had in the hotel room where he died. The documents say Bustamante and Benoit first met when she was a student in his fall 2010 psychology 218 course.
By the end of the semester, the two were engaged in a sexual relationship, according to police.
The threats where Bustamante held a gun to Benoit's head occurred at the end of January, the week after spring break in March and the second week of May, after which their relationship ended, the documents said.
Bustamante denied Benoit's allegations of sexual harassment, and filed a formal complaint against her for "making unfounded complaints and potential defamation of character."
Police also revealed some of the items found in the hotel room, including four prescriptions in Bustamante's name for issues like sleep disorders, anxiety, depression and bipolar disorder. Officers also found six firearms and additional ammunition.
Bustamante had a concealed weapons permit for his guns, issued March 28 by the Latah County Sheriff's Office.
Benoit's autopsy revealed that she had been struck 11 times with a .45-caliber weapon. Police said they believe a Smith and Wesson M&P .45 found in Bustamante's room was the murder weapon.
The investigation is continuing, with search warrants still to be served for records from the UI and Bustamante's personal vehicle, which was found at Zeppos in Pullman, not far from where he rented another car Monday morning.
(c)2011 the Lewiston Tribune (Lewiston, Idaho)
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