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Suits filed over Ala. university killings

Familes say school didn’t follow rules

By Jay Reeves
Associated Press / January 15, 2011

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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Relatives of two teachers shot and killed during a faculty meeting last year at the University of Alabama in Huntsville filed lawsuits yesterday, contending that school administrators’ failure to follow safety rules contributed to the slaying.

The lawsuits, filed in state court in Huntsville by survivors of Maria Ragland Davis and Adriel D. Johnson Sr., say UAH officials knew that Amy Bishop, the professor charged in the killings, was mentally unstable, yet did not take steps that could have prevented the killings.

Aside from Bishop and her husband, James, the suit names Vistasp M. Karbhari, the UAH provost and executive vice president for academics.

Another lawsuit had already been filed over the shooting.

The university said in a statement that it was confident that Karbhari will be exonerated, saying that the “blame for this loss must be placed squarely on the perpetrator of this horrible crime.’’

“The university is saddened by the decision to sue Dr. Vistasp Karbhari and does not agree that Dr. Karbhari, or anyone associated with the university, could have predicted or prevented this random act of violence,’’ it said.

A lawyer for Bishop, Roy Miller, has said she will probably use an insanity defense. Bishop is jailed without bond.

Davis, Johnson, and Gopi K. Podila were killed when gunfire erupted during a meeting of the biology department faculty last Feb. 12. Three other people were shot, two critically, but survived.

The suits say school officials had warning signs that Bishop could be dangerous, yet failed to notify police, as required by university regulations.

“We have learned from departmental e-mails that Dr. Bishop’s severe mental instability was known by administrators, some of whom she had threatened, harassed, and hounded following denial of tenure,’’ said Douglas Fierberg, a lawyer representing both families.

The two faculty members who were seriously injured in the shooting, Joseph Leahy and Stephanie Monticciolo, filed suit against Bishop and her husband in November.

In June, a grand jury indicted Bishop on murder charges in the 1986 shooting death of her brother, 18-year-old Seth Bishop. The death at the family’s Braintree home was initially ruled accidental. But the case was reopened and an inquest conducted after her arrest in the Huntsville case.