|Re: 12/8/01 - NH Register: Van de Velde sues cops|
Van de Velde sues cops
Randall Beach, Register Staff December 08, 2001
James Van de Velde, left, and Suzanne Jovin
NEW HAVEN — James Van de Velde, the only man named by New Haven police as a suspect in the slaying of Yale student Suzanne Jovin, Friday filed a civil rights lawsuit against the police for their "public branding" of his character.
Van de Velde, who has consistently maintained his innocence, filed the suit in U.S.
District Court here, just before the three-year statute of limitations expired for civil rights litigation.
Jovin, 21, was found dying at the corner of East Rock and Edgehill roads Dec. 4, 1998.
She had been stabbed 17 times.
Van de Velde's writ, prepared by attorney David Grudberg, described in detail the actions which led to the former Yale lecturer being named a suspect several days after the murder.
"As a result of defendants' conduct," the writ stated, "plaintiff was charged, tried and convicted in the media, and therefore in the minds of much of the public — without regard to facts, logic, legal standards or the rule of law."
The suit seeks unspecified damages.
"We waited as long as we possibly could for the police to solve this crime or to clear Jim Van de Velde," Grudberg said in an interview Friday. "They have done neither."
Grudberg added, "This is the beginning of our effort to vindicate Jim's name and hold people accountable for the damage to his life."
Grudberg also said, "A lawsuit against Yale remains a possibility." Van de Velde has said he intends to sue the university, which removed him from the classroom after he was identified as a suspect.
"I refuse to remain a victim of the New Haven police," Van de Velde said in a statement Friday from his home in Virginia.
"Today, I continue my promise to hold accountable those who worked to destroy my life," he added.
Van de Velde, 41, also said, "New Haven will long be known as the city where police wantonly point fingers at innocent people to feign competence and progress in a high profile investigation. The Jovin investigation to date disgraces the good name of honest and competent police officers in New Haven and nationwide."
New Haven Police Chief Melvin Wearing, the first defendant listed on the writ, declined to comment.
Thomas Ude Jr., the city's corporation counsel, said, "Members of the Police Department involved in the investigation were working to try to solve a crime — not to attack Mr. Van de Velde. His civil rights were not violated by the police department."
Ude said Van de Velde "bears some of the responsibility himself" for the intense media interest in the case.
"He went to the press himself on numerous occasions, proclaiming his innocence, drawing attention to himself," Ude added.
The other defendants include three city police detectives who investigated the crime: Capt.
Brian Sullivan, who then headed the detective division, Edward Kendall and Thomas Trocchio.
Also listed as a defendant was Lisa Bull Dilullo, the legal representative for the estate of Anthony Dilullo. Prior to his death, Dilullo was a city police detective investigating the Jovin case.
Finally, the writ listed "John Does," described as other police officers who investigated the case.
The writ said police "wrongfully and repeatedly named the plaintiff, and only the plaintiff, as a suspect" in the murder.
According to the writ, this "repeated public branding" caused worldwide negative publicity for Van de Velde.
The police accusations "damaged plaintiff's reputation, his job status, his present and future career and his health and well-being," the writ charged.
The publicity caused Van de Velde to experience "humiliation, disgrace, mental anguish, psychological trauma and severe emotional distress," the document added.
Van de Velde previously said he has had to see a psychiatrist and accepted a job at the Pentagon for which he was overqualified.
His lawsuit noted he lost his job as a political science lecturer at Yale when his one-year contract was not renewed and he was suspended from the broadcast journalism program at Quinnipiac University after he was named a suspect. He has sued Quinnipiac.
The writ also noted Van de Velde has never been charged with the murder and "all evidence points overwhelmingly to his innocence."
"There was not a shred of forensic or other evidence to link the plaintiff to the murder; there was no credible motive evidence; there was no evidence of any improper relationship between the plaintiff and Ms. Jovin; and there was no credible evidence regarding the plaintiff's background to link him to such a terrible crime," the writ said.
The document noted New Haven State's Attorney Michael Dearington in October disclosed male DNA was found beneath Jovin's fingernails and it did not match Van de Velde's DNA.
But even after that, the writ said, police refused to eliminate Van de Velde as a suspect.
Because it was a Yale student who had been murdered, the writ said, police were "subject to great pressure to solve the crime quickly" or at least demonstrate progress.
Thus, in the week after the murder, the writ charged, "defendants anonymously caused plaintiff's name to be leaked to the press as the 'prime suspect' in the case."
The document cited two New Haven Register news stories that week: on Dec. 8, in which police said Jovin "knew her killer" (Van de Velde was quoted in that story, praising her academic work); and on Dec. 9, when it was reported police were questioning a "Yale educator."
Although Van de Velde was not named in the Dec. 9 story, the writ said it was apparent the article referred to him because of specific details in that article and in the Dec. 8 story. The Register did not name Van de Velde as the man being questioned by police until Dec.
10, after he had appeared on TV interviews.
The writ noted detectives Trocchio and Dilullo questioned Van de Velde for four hours the night of Dec. 8. Their tone was "accusatory, offensive and distressing," the writ stated, although Van de Velde allegedly answered every question.
©New Haven Register 2001