|Re: 3/30/04 - NH Register: Federal judge dismisses Van de Velde lawsuit try |
Federal judge dismisses Van de Velde lawsuit try
Michelle Tuccitto , Register Staff 03/30/2004
NEW HAVEN — A federal judge has tossed out a lawsuit filed by James Van de Velde against New Haven police and Yale University officials after they named him as a suspect in the murder of Suzanne Jovin.
Jovin, who had been a Yale senior, was stabbed to death in the city’s East Rock neighborhood Dec. 4, 1998. Van de Velde had been Jovin’s thesis adviser at Yale.
No one has ever been charged in the case.
U.S. District Judge Robert N. Chatigny this month granted the defendants’ motions to dismiss the lawsuit, which had claimed constitutional rights violations.
New Haven lawyer David T. Grudberg, who represents Van de Velde, said Monday he plans to ask the judge to reconsider his decision. If Chatigny refuses, Grudberg plans to appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals. If unsuccessful with both strategies, he may also refile a lawsuit in Superior Court solely on state claims, he said.
"We are extremely disappointed with the court’s decision and still believe strongly in the case," Grudberg said. "The treatment that James Van de Velde received in the course of this investigation has had a devastating impact on his life and caused irreparable damage to him.
"We had hoped and still hope this lawsuit would be one way to hold accountable some of the people who helped inflict that damage on him, and help make him whole for the damages he suffered," Grudberg added.
In December 1998, the defendants disclosed to the media that a male Yale teacher was the "lead suspect" in the murder, according to the decision.
Yale cancelled Van de Velde’s spring courses and informed him he would not be permitted to serve as a senior essay adviser or tutor.
Yale spokesman Thomas Conroy, one of the named defendants, subsequently issued a statement to the media that Van de Velde was "in a pool of suspects" and police would be questioning people about him on campus. New Haven police then confirmed Van de Velde was a suspect, the decision shows.
Van de Velde, who now lives in the Washington, D.C., area, maintains his innocence.
The lawsuit claimed that the defendants violated Van de Velde’s 14th Amendment right to equal treatment by releasing only his name to the public, not the names of other potential suspects.
"The claim against the Yale defendants is insufficient because there is no allegation that any of them ever knew the names of any other suspects in the Jovin case," Chatigny wrote. "The claim against the New Haven defendants is insufficient because there is no allegation that they were ever asked to confirm the identity of any other suspect."
The lawsuit further alleged the defendants, by naming Van de Velde as a suspect, violated his 14th Amendment right to confidentiality in personal matters and due process, and his Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable seizure, referring to the seizure of his good name without probable cause. Chatigny dismissed all of these claims.
The lawsuit additionally claimed violation of state law, or invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Chatigny declined to exercise jurisdiction over the state law claims. Van de Velde may still pursue them in the state court system.
City Corporation Counsel Thomas Ude said city officials are pleased with the judge’s decision and "look forward to moving on."
Conroy said the university believes the judge made the proper decision on the federal claims.
"If a state claim is pursued, the university is confident it would prevail," Conroy said.
Named in the lawsuit were retired New Haven Police Chief Melvin H. Wearing, retired police personnel Brian Sullivan, Thomas Trocchio and Edward Kendall, and the late Detective Anthony DiLullo. Besides Conroy, Yale defendants included President Richard C. Levin, Secretary Linda Koch Lorimer, Yale College Dean Richard H. Brodhead, and Yale Police Chief James Perrotti.
Earlier this year, Van de Velde won an $80,000 settlement against Quinnipiac University. Van de Velde had sued Quinnipiac, claiming the school wrongfully dismissed him from a broadcast journalism graduate program because of news reports linking him to the Jovin slaying. That lawsuit further claimed Quinnipiac spread defamatory statements about him to the media to explain his dismissal.
Michelle Tuccitto can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or at 789-5615.
©New Haven Register 2004