Several top Yale University administrators were added last Tuesday to a federal civil rights lawsuit filed by former Yale political science lecturer James Van de Velde ’82, the only named suspect in the Suzanne Jovin ’99 murder investigation.
The suit alleges that the defendants repeatedly violated Van de Velde’s civil rights by naming him — and only him — as one of a “pool of suspects” in the Jovin case, a label police have repeatedly used and never withdrawn. The lawsuit was originally filed in December 2001 against New Haven Police Chief Melvin H. Wearing and several other current and former police officers. It was amended last Tuesday to include Yale University President Richard Levin, Linda Lorimer, Richard Brodhead, Thomas Conroy, and James Perrotti among the defendants.
New Haven corporation counsel Thomas Ude, the lead attorney representing the city, said a judge granted Van de Velde’s motion to add the Yale defendants to the lawsuit during a phone conference on April 3.
In an e-mail to the Yale Daily News, Van de Velde said he held off on suing Yale administrators because the city of New Haven was in default of the original lawsuit. A default occurs when the defendant fails to answer the charges brought in a civil lawsuit. Penalties for defaulting may include an automatic ruling in favor of the plaintiff. But in Van de Velde’s suit, a judge “admonished the City for never answering my federal complaint,” Van de Velde said. “He [the judge] subsequently allowed the City to answer the complaint.”
“In effect, as a result of defendants’ conduct, [Van de Velde] 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 lawsuit alleges.
Ude said the default was set aside in the April 3 conference.
“The city plans to defend the case on its merits,” he said.
Jovin, a senior majoring in political science, was found with 17 stab wounds to her neck and back on the night of Dec. 4, 1998, in New Haven’s wealthy East Rock neighborhood — about 1.5 miles from Yale’s campus.
Van de Velde, Jovin’s senior thesis adviser, has maintained his innocence since the start of the investigation and has never been charged with the crime. He alleged in his suit that the negative publicity he received because of his status as a suspect has damaged his “reputation, his job status, his present and future career, and his health and well-being.”
Van de Velde’s lawsuit alleges that the Yale defendants were “acting in concert with one or more of the New Haven defendants” and “anonymously caused the plaintiff’s name to be leaked to the press as the ‘prime suspect’ in the case.” Furthermore, the lawsuit alleges that “the Yale defendants have also continued to identify only the plaintiff as a ‘suspect’ in the case in periodic public statements — although not as frequently as the New Haven defendants.”
The lawsuit also alleges that the New Haven Police Department shared with the Yale defendants “information — that was not shared with the general public.” It also cites instances in which Yale Police Department and the NHPD collaborated on the case, such as when Van de Velde was denied entrance to the political science department by Yale police until an NHPD detective was called to the scene, after which Van de Velde was asked to consent to a search of his office.