MOSCOW, Idaho -- Thousands of documents released Thursday by the University of Idaho depict Ernesto Bustamante as a brilliant academic whose personal life was marred by relationships with students and mental illness.
And Katy Benoit, the graduate student and former lover he gunned down in August before killing himself, had her own demons, suffering from bipolar disorder, depression and drug abuse, according to the documents.
Bustamante's transcripts from Old Dominion University show he was a straight-A student, save for one B in an ergonomics class. The files released by the UI also detail an extensive research and publication record after he was hired in 2007, and that Bustamante was nominated for a teaching award in 2009. He was also a whiz with behavioral analysis software.
But shortly after Bustamante arrived in Moscow, signs of trouble started to appear. He disclosed to psychology department Chairman Kenneth Locke that he suffered from bipolar disorder. Some of his students also complained he flirted with female students and showed favoritism toward some of them.
The next few years of Bustamante's time at the UI seemed to be uneventful, with him working steadily toward tenure. But in December, an anonymous call to a UI hotline alleged that Bustamante was having sex with students, including one "abusive and coercive" relationship.
That got Bustamante in hot water with his dean and associate dean, who told him sexual harassment would not be tolerated and to halt any such relationships. Bustamante denied everything.
Earlier that semester, Bustamante met Benoit, a 22-year-old Boise native who was a good student and a budding master cellist. She enrolled in one of his psychology classes, and by the end of the year, they were dating.
They apparently went through a tumultuous spring semester together with an on-again, off-again relationship. In the sexual harassment complaint Benoit filed against Bustamante in June, she alleged he held a loaded gun to her head in January, March and May.
In his response to the complaint, Bustamante turned on Benoit, accusing her of "drug use and distribution," including daily marijuana use. He also alleged Benoit stole a nearly full bottle of one of his antidepressant medications, and tried to sell them back to him at the "black market value."
In one of her interviews with UI Office of Human Rights Access and Inclusion Director Carmen Suarez, Benoit admitted to stealing the pills and indicated it was the catalyst for the third gun incident.
Benoit told Suarez that she had struggled with bipolar disorder since the fifth grade, and had what she called "crazy times." By late May or early June, Benoit told Suarez she had awakened from one of those times, and put an end to her relationship with Bustamante.
But if Benoit was awakening, Bustamante seemed to be losing control of his life. In an April 30 email to Locke, he expresses trust and admiration to his boss and mentor, and apologizes for affecting him in negative ways.
"I'm going through major withdrawals due to a lack of my main medication, and I'm struggling to even type this e-mail," Bustamante wrote. "Neither you, nor anyone else, should suffer any negative consequences due to my lack of mental health. I am doing my best to manage, but I am failing."
He then warns Locke that students may begin complaining about his behavior. By July 20, the day after Bustamante decided to resign rather than face further university investigation, Locke wrote that he hoped Bustamante was able to handle the situation.
"You sounded okay -- maybe a bit defeated, but not depressed -- on the phone yesterday," Locke wrote. "On the other hand, given your mental health history, I cannot stop worrying about your state of mind."
A Venezuelan national, Bustamante also struggled with his immigration status, which could have been an additional source of stress. He told UI officials that his departure from the university could negatively affect his plans to become a permanent resident.
(c)2011 the Lewiston Tribune (Lewiston, Idaho)
Visit the Lewiston Tribune (Lewiston, Idaho) at www.lmtribune.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services