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Judge dismisses two counts against UMass in death of confidential informant

  • The University of Massachusetts Amherst (UMass) campus Courtesy photo



@ecutts_HG
Wednesday, December 06, 2017

NORTHAMPTON — A judge ruled Monday to dismiss two of three counts against the University of Massachusetts Amherst in the death of a student participating in its confidential informant program.

At issue in the filing is whether the University’s Code of Student Conduct required the university, either expressly or implicitly, to notify Eric Sinacori’s parents of his alleged drug activity.

Sinacori, 20, of Whitehouse Station, New Jersey, was found dead by his father in his apartment at Puffton Village in Amherst on Oct. 4, 2013. He was a third-year kinesiology major at UMass. In the fall of 2012, Sinacori agreed to participate in the now defunct confidential information program after he was allegedly caught selling LSD to an undercover officer and was in possession of a hypodermic needle.

Filed in October 2016 by Eric’s mother, Francesca Sinacori, the civil lawsuit seeks a total of $6 million in damages for a wrongful death and breach of contract. While the majority of that amount is sought from the university, Sinacori is seeking $1 million from the former graduate student, Jesse Carrillo, convicted in connection to Eric’s death.

Carrillo was found guilty in May in Hampshire Superior Court of involuntary manslaughter and distributing heroin in the death of Eric L. Sinacori.

“Eric’s death was a tragedy,” Judge Richard Carey ruled. “However, the plaintiff’s allegations, even if true, do not establish breaches of contract by the University.”

Arguing last month in defense of the motion to dismiss, attorney Bart Hollander told the judge that Eric Sinacori had “the power as the student to make notification to his parents at any point.”

“That was Eric’s conscious choice at 19½ years old,” Hollander added.

Francesca Sinacori’s attorney, Luke Ryan, argued that the code of conduct laid out a specific procedure on how students alleged to be in violation of the school’s drug policy would be handled and nowhere did it mention a confidential informant program.

“Mr. Sinacori suffered from a medical condition,” Ryan said. The confidential informant program, he argued, put vulnerable students in a position that had substantial incentive to keep their drug use from their parents.

In his ruling, Carey stated that Eric Sinacori, not the university, was in violation of the code of conduct.

Carey added that even if the court concluded that the university had a contractual obligation to notify his parents of the ecstasy sale in December 2014, it is “pure speculation and conjecture” that the university’s failure to tell them caused Eric Sinacori’s death.

“Assuming that the Code constituted a binding contract, that contract would have been between Eric, as an adult student subject to the Code, and the University,” Carey wrote. “Yet Francesca’s claims in Count 1 and 2 are based on her theory that the University owed her, as Eric’s parent, an obligation to notify her of Eric’s drug activity. The Code of Student Conduct terms do not support her view.”

Two counts against Carrillo alleging wrongful death and negligent infliction of emotional distress as well as a count against the university alleging negligence still remain in the lawsuit.

Emily Cutts can be reached at ecutts@gazettenet.com.