Victims of UAH faculty shooting sue over killings

By Jay Reeves
Associated Press / January 14, 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 Friday claiming school administrators' failure to follow safety rules contributed to the mass slaying.

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

Aside from Bishop and her husband James, the suit names UAH Provost Vistasp M. Karbhari, who also serves as executive vice president for academics. Another lawsuit had already been filed over the shooting.

The university said in a statement it was confident that Karbhari would 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.

An attorney for Bishop, Roy Miller, has said she will likely use an insanity defense. She is jailed without bond in the killings.

"The lawsuit does not come as any surprise. It's to be expected," Miller said.

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 claim 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," Douglas Fierberg, a Washington attorney for both families, said in a statement.

Davis' husband, Sammie Lee Davis, said his wife was slain by "her mentally ill colleague."

"We hope this action will help prevent future tragedies by educating the public on a university's responsibilities when dealing with people under severe psychological distress," he said in the statement.

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 for murder in the 1986 shooting death of her brother, 18-year-old Seth Bishop. The death at the family's suburban Boston home initially was ruled accidental. But the case was reopened and an inquest conducted after her arrest in the Huntsville case.