Fourteen years after the fatal stabbing of Yale student Suzanne Jovin ’99, the former Yale lecturer who was named as a suspect in the unsolved murder has settled his lawsuit against the city of New Haven and the University.
Jovin, then 21, was found dead on Dec. 4, 1998 on the corner of Edgehill Avenue and East Rock Road in New Haven’s East Rock neighborhood. Within a week, police focused their investigation on James Van de Velde ’82, a political science lecturer and Jovin’s senior thesis adviser, who became the only publicly named suspect in the case. But Van de Velde was never charged in connection with the murder, and Michael Dearington, the state’s attorney for the New Haven district, told the News on Thursday that he is no longer a suspect in the case.
Van de Velde’s attorney David Grudberg said the settlement, which was announced on Monday, gives his client “the vindication he deserves,” ending a 12-year legal battle with Yale and New Haven.
“Yale and the city’s actions were enormously damaging to my professional life and took a comparable emotional toll,” Van de Velde told the News on Thursday. “I am most relieved that this sad episode is over once and for all.”
Under the agreement — which was reached after a year of discussion between the parties, with U.S. Magistrate William Garfinkel ’77 LAW ’81 serving as mediator — the city of New Haven will pay Van de Velde $200,000. Yale spokesman Karen Peart declined to disclose how much the University will pay as part of the settlement. All parties involved agree that the decision to end the litigation was financially prudent, with Yale and New Haven emphasizing that it does not constitute an acknowledgment of wrongdoing.
“The settlement is not an admission of liability and was done for the primary purpose of avoiding the tremendous costs associated with litigating this matter through trial and any appeal,” said New Haven attorney Robert Rhodes, who represented the city in the case.
In a written statement, Peart said that “continuing the civil litigation for several more years would serve little purpose at this point, and it would demand further time, energy, and cost with no corresponding benefit.”
Grudberg said the legal saga illustrates the “irreparable damages” that can be caused when officials mistakenly focus on one individual early in their investigation, adding that their actions hurt not only his client but also the progress of the investigation.
Van de Velde turned from “an extremely well-regarded instructor” into “a pariah within academia” after he was named a suspect, Grudberg said. One month into the investigation, then-Yale College Dean Richard Brodhead — now president of Duke University — canceled Van de Velde’s spring-term courses and enjoined him from advising any senior essays or directed readings.
Van de Velde sued the New Haven Police Department in December 2001, claiming violations of his Constitutional rights and damages to his reputation and career. In April 2003, he added several top Yale administrators as defendants, including University President Richard Levin, Vice President Linda Lorimer, Brodhead, and former Yale Police Chief James Perrotti and Yale spokesman Tom Conroy.
Grudberg said that after losing his teaching position at Yale, Van de Velde remained unemployed for years, eventually landing a job at the consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton, where he now works as an analyst on intelligence and counterterrorism issues. Since 2003, he has also served as an active duty Naval intelligence officer at the Defense Intelligence Agency. Van de Velde has returned to academia as well, working as a lecturer in the Graduate Program in Global Security Studies at Johns Hopkins University.
“Over these past 14 years, I have been able to piece back together my professional life by passing the intelligence community’s most stringent background investigations and polygraph tests,” Van de Velde said, adding that he now wishes to become a spokesman for the wrongly accused and publicly labeled.
While Van de Velde’s lawsuit has come to an end, the investigation into Jovin’s death continues. In September 2006, the case was handed over to Connecticut’s Cold Case Unit. After a team of retired state police detectives took over the case four years ago, investigators set up a tip line that generated some leads but without much success.
The detectives are still “actively investigating the case,” volunteering their time to follow leads, Chief State’s Attorney Kevin Kane said on the 14th anniversary of Jovin’s death last December.
“Every so often, we get new information, and that is always followed up on immediately,” Kane said. “We also have looked at the forensic evidence very closely and will do so again as technology evolves.”
Jack Edwards, chief inspector of the state’s division of Criminal Justice, said detectives work every day to process and verify new information gathered from the tip line.
“It’s a difficult case, but we have a steady commitment to it,” Edwards said. “I have people working on it right now, as we speak.”
Jovin’s father, Thomas Jovin, declined to comment on the settlement between Van de Velde, Yale and New Haven.
Anyone who may have information about the case is encouraged to call 203-676-1575, the tip line that was set up in 2007.