NEW HAVEN, Conn. — A former Yale University lecturer who was named as a suspect but never charged in the 1998 killing of a student has settled his lawsuit against the university and New Haven police, attorneys involved in the case and the university said Monday.
James Van de Velde said in his lawsuit that being named a suspect violated his civil rights and damaged his reputation, career and health. The case shows the terrible harm that can be done to innocent people, said his attorney, David Grudberg.
“This case is another example of the awful damage that can occur when authorities make a rush to judgment and ignore the facts,” Grudberg said. “It has been apparent for many, many years that James Van de Velde should never have been named a suspect in this case.”
“There was zero evidence connecting him with the crime. We brought this lawsuit to vindicate his good name, and the settlement of this lawsuit gives him the vindication he deserves,” Grudberg said.
Van de Velde said he intends to move forward in his career as a consultant to the U.S. intelligence community, a lecturer in security studies at Johns Hopkins University and return to the U.S. Naval Intelligence Reserves. He also said he plans to serve as a spokesman for those wrongly accused and publicly labeled.
The killing of Yale student Suzanne Jovin, a 21-year-old political science major from Germany, remains unsolved.
The amount of the settlement was not disclosed.
Karen Peart, a Yale spokeswoman, said Van De Velde initially sued the city in 2001 and added the Yale defendants in 2003. She said parts of the lawsuit were dismissed years ago.
“Yale will continue to cooperate in every way it can with the state’s ongoing investigation of Ms. Jovin’s tragic death, and nothing in the settlement of Mr. Van de Velde’s civil lawsuit precludes further criminal investigation by the authorities,” Peart said in a statement. “But 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. For this reason, Yale has chosen to reach a simple, negotiated settlement to resolve the litigation.”
Robert Rhodes, an attorney for the city, said the settlement is mutually beneficial for the parties, saying it will avoid further time and expenses associated with litigation.
Van De Velde, who served as Jovin’s thesis adviser and lost his job after her killing, told police he had been home alone when Jovin was stabbed 17 times in the back and neck on a cold December night and left slumped on the curb of a residential street, three-fifths of a mile from Jovin’s home.
“I wasn’t a boyfriend, ex-husband, a work colleague. I had no argument with her,” Van de Velde wrote in 2009 in response to questions emailed by The Associated Press. “My DNA was not at the scene. I was not seen at the scene.”
He eventually went to Washington, where he worked for three years as an analyst of weapons of mass destruction for the Defense Intelligence Agency. Later, he served in the State Department’s diplomatic corps.
“I was destroyed,” Van de Velde wrote to the AP. “Naming someone Jovin knew served the interests of Yale, which wanted to dissuade the public that (she) was perhaps killed by a random act of violence,” which would have raised questions about security on campus and neighboring areas, he said.