Former suspect persists in suit vs. police, Yale



Former political science lecturer James Van de Velde ’82 will ask a U.S. District Court judge this week to reconsider the decision to dismiss his lawsuit against the New Haven Police Department and Yale, his attorney said Tuesday.

U.S. District Court Judge Robert Chatigny dismissed Van de Velde’s federal claims with prejudice in a decision issued March 12, meaning that Van de Velde can no longer pursue his federal suit. But Van de Velde’s state claims were dismissed without prejudice, allowing Van de Velde to refile them in state court.

David Grudberg ’82, the attorney representing Van de Velde, said both he and his client were disappointed by the decision.

“We think the judge made a mistake in dismissing the case at this stage before we even had a chance for discovery,” he said. “We’re going to press forward.”

Van de Velde remains the only named suspect in the 1998 murder of Yale senior Suzanne Jovin ’99, whom he was advising on her senior thesis at the time of her death. In the suit, Van de Velde, who has maintained his innocence, alleged that city police and Yale violated his civil rights by publicly naming him as a suspect in the slaying.

Chatigny denied Van de Velde’s claim that his constitutional rights to equal protection, privacy, procedural due process and protection against unreasonable seizures were violated in the course of the investigation.

“The [equal protection] 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 said in his decision. “Injury to reputation is insufficient to support a procedural due process claim.”

University General Counsel Dorothy Robinson said she was pleased with Chatigny’s decision.

“We think it is right, and that it will be affirmed on appeal,” she said in an e-mail.

The suit originally named former New Haven Police Chief Melvin Wearing and four other NHPD officers as defendants. It was amended in 2003 to include University President Richard Levin, Secretary Linda Lorimer, College Dean Richard Brodhead, spokesman Tom Conroy, and Yale Police Chief James Perrotti.

Perrotti declined to comment on the dismissal of the lawsuit against him.

Grudberg said Van de Velde will appeal the judge’s decision if his motion for reconsideration is denied. However, Grudberg said he will wait for a decision on the motion before deciding whether to go forward with the state lawsuit.

“We intend to pursue everything we can,” he said.

University spokeswoman Helaine Klasky said Yale is confident it will prevail if Van de Velde chooses to pursue the state suit for invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Had the suit reached the discovery phase, Grudberg had said he expected to subpoena top Yale officials, including all the named defendants.

Van de Velde won an $80,000 settlement from Quinnipiac University in a separate defamation lawsuit in January. He sued the school, where he had been enrolled in a master’s degree program in broadcast journalism, for allegedly leaking false information about him to the press during the Jovin investigation.

Van de Velde was in California Tuesday and could not be reached for comment.

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