Professor faces pre-trial after multiple arrests
An associate chemistry professor at the University of Connecticut will stand on pre-trial for charges of two felonies and seven misdemeanors at Rockville Superior Court in Vernon today.
Gabriel Fenteany pleaded not guilty to all nine charges. The two felonies he has been charged with are violation of a protective order and risk of injury to a child. The misdemeanors comprise breach of peace, criminal mischief, interfering with an emergency call, resisting an officer on two accounts and third-degree assault.
Fenteany and his attorney, Elizabeth Foran, did not respond to several calls and emails from The Daily Campus over the course of a week.
Charges were filed against Fenteany on two separate occasions, the first of which occurred on June 4, 2012 when Fenteany was charged with resisting an officer and disorderly conduct. An investigation report from the Connecticut Department of Public Safety details a domestic dispute in which Fenteany was reported to have thrown things, hit a female victim and punched a male victim in the face, breaking his glasses. Fenteany was released on a promise to appear in court.
The investigation report noted that police had already been called to Fenteany's house twice in the last year when they were called to settle the dispute in June. He was sent to the hospital the first time for drinking and was arrested the second time.
The day after Fenteany's June arrest, an order of protection was filed against him by a relative named Iain Hall through the State of Connecticut Superior Court. A month later, Fenteany's former wife, Fiona Fenteany, signed an order of protection against Fenteany mandating that he could not harass or contact Fiona, or come near her home. The order extended to their two minor children and their animals.
Fenteany was arrested again at the East Brook Mall in Mansfield on September 11, 2012 for violating Fiona's protective order, and was charged with risk of injury to child, violation of a protective order, fourth-degree criminal mischief, interfering with an officer, breach of peace, interfering with an emergency call and third-degree assault. He was released on a $20,000 professional surety bond.
Connecticut law prohibits the university from firing employees due to an arrest if there has not been a conviction because the case is pending. However, an employee may be placed on paid leave or assigned to alternative duties as a case is pending if it involves serious criminal charges, said University Spokesperson Stephanie Reitz in an email.
Fenteany is currently registered on the university course catalog to teach introduction to chemical research, undergraduate research, independent study classes and a thesis course for chemistry majors at the UConn Storrs Campus for the spring 2013 semester.
The Fenteany Research Group at UConn, which addresses wound healing, cancer and embryonic development, is still performing research. However, many of Fenteany's lab responsibilities have been taken over by associate chemistry professor Mark Peczuh, according to a member of the Fenteany Research Group and 4th-semester biology major, Sonny Caplash.
The head of the chemistry department, Amy Howell, referred all questions to the university spokesperson.
The university does not comment on specific personnel cases, but is guided by state law and university policy. However, the university operates on a case-by-case basis, spokesperson Reitz said.
"Conviction of a crime is grounds for disciplinary action, and UConn has terminated employees following conviction of violent crimes or other serious offenses," Reitz said.
According to Reitz, when university officials learn of an off-campus employee arrest concerning violent charges, UConn's Labor Relations Department consults with the police for a threat assessment of the employee to determine their eligibility to continue working as usual.
"We take appropriate precautions to balance the employee's rights to the presumption of innocence and due process against the university's obligations to maintain a safe and orderly campus environment," Reitz said.
Students who worked closely with Fenteany describe him as a highly knowledgeable and skilled chemical biologist who took his work very seriously.
Nicholas Eddy, a former doctoral student at UConn who worked closely under Fenteany for six years before graduating in December 2012, said he and his colleagues were aware Fenteany has undergone "numerous setbacks," in his personal life, which led to a stressful environment in the lab.
During the 2012 academic year, Fenteany's research grant was not renewed and three of his advanced students were scheduled to graduate in the spring, leaving his lab in a precarious state.
"There were numerous arguments between him and my fellow labmates during this time as well, partly from the amount of stress we all felt," Eddy said in an email.
Although Eddy said he had disagreements with Fenteany, the research group of graduate students and Fenteany parted on good terms when the students graduated with their PhDs and he said that he misses working with him.
"All of us wish him well, with no reservations," wrote Eddy. "He was our mentor, our friend, and at the end, our colleague, no matter the differences we had while working under him."
Kristi Kearney, an 8th-semester biology major who worked in Fenteany's lab with Eddy one summer, described Fenteany as a humble and respectable professor, although she did not often work with Fenteany in the lab because he was ill at the time.
"From the work that was being done in the organic chem lab, it was very clear to me that Dr. Fenteany had been running a very successful lab, breeding very successful chemists," she said.
A time frame for the conclusion of all pre-trial activities and a tentative trial date may be set at today's pre-trial conference. According to the Connecticut Penal Code, Fenteany could face five or more years in prison if convicted of the charges against him.
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