The Yale Herald
On Feb. 11, 1989, Gillum borrowed a car and drove to Delaware, where Bryant was attending graduate school. Locating her in a shopping center, Gillum confronted Bryant in a store, followed her to the parking lot, and shot and killed her with a hunting rifle. He then fled a couple miles down the road and committed suicide.Yale sued for nine-year-old murder-suicide By Joshua Marks(U-WIRE)
NEW HAVEN, Conn. — Last month, the families of the victims of a 1989 murder-suicide filed their fourth lawsuit against a Yale psychiatry professor and the University, claiming a student’s depression and potential for violence were not properly evaluated and appropriate action was not taken.The families filed the lawsuit under the “accidental failure of suit” statute, a Connecticut state law that permits plaintiffs to refile lawsuits that were dismissed for procedural reasons. The first two lawsuits were dismissed because of “discovery-related issues,” according to New Haven attorney Terrence Hawkins, CC ’78. The judge dismissed the third attempt in January 1997 because Hawkins failed to appear for a status conference.
In October 1988, Aaron Haruna Gillum, a 24-year-old Yale graduate student, went to Yale-New Haven Hospital seeking treatment for depression. He was referred to psychiatrist James Scott, who prescribed Prozac.
Gillum stopped taking the drug in January 1989, however, and went to the Yale-New Haven Hospital emergency room on Feb. 7, 1989, complaining of disorientation and confusion. He admitted to hospital personnel that he had stopped taking Prozac.According to the lawsuit, officials at the Yale Health Plan had instructed hospital staff to have Gillum report to the Urgent Visit Clinic the next day, which he never did.
On Feb. 8, Yale officials allowed Gillum to return full-time to his studiesThat same day, Gillum met with Scott for the last time. Gillum discussed how he was handling the fact that his fiancée, Angelina Bryant, had broken off their engagement because of his emotional difficulties.
Scott stated in a deposition that hospital officials had not informed him that Gillum had ceased to take Prozac, been treated at the emergency room, or failed to report to Yale-New Haven’s Urgent Visit Clinic. “I have absolutely no idea as to how things turned out the way they did,” Scott said.On Feb. 11, 1989, Gillum borrowed a car and drove to Delaware, where Bryant was attending graduate school. Locating her in a shopping center, Gillum confronted Bryant in a store, followed her to the parking lot, and shot and killed her with a hunting rifle. He then fled a couple miles down the road and committed suicide.The families’ lawsuit is double-edged. According to Hawkins, “On the one hand [there is] a failure to warn [Bryant], and with the Gillum estate [there is] a failure to tell what happened.”
The families allege that Scott failed to assess the depth of Gillum’s depression and to warn Bryant’s family that Gillum was potentially dangerous. In addition, the lawsuit claims that Yale-New Haven Hospital officials or Yale employees failed to inform Scott when Gillum did not report to the Urgent Visit Clinic for an appointment. The hospital also allegedly did not inform Scott about Gillum’s psychologically-related emergency room visit.The plaintiffs have not specified the amount of damages they are seeking.
Connecticut state law does not require plaintiffs to specify the amount of money they are suing for if they intend to seek an award of at least $15,000.B. Jay Cooper, spokesperson for the Office of Public Affairs, and Ken Best, spokesperson for Yale-New Haven Hospital’s Office of Public Affairs, both declined to comment on the case, and Scott could not be reached for comment. As in most litigation cases, the defendants’ strategy will be to force the plaintiffs to prove their claims. Hawkins noted that “what the defendant usually endeavors to do is narrow down the plaintiff’s claims.”If the case reaches a jury, which did not happen in the past three attempts, the plaintiffs will have to prove that the University and Scott could have done more to prevent the murder-suicide. “The plaintiff bears the burden of proof,” Hawkins said.Although Cooper would not reveal the University’s strategy, he said, “From what the University has done in the past [concerning the case], I’m sure you can tell what we’ll do now.” Hawkins said that in the past the defendants have “vigorously and capably defended their case,” and he expects them to do so again.