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Expert Witness Says Northrop’s Lack of Summer Contact Was ‘Typical’ for University Case Workers

John P. Pappas (center) presides over trial. Carrie E. Landa, Boston University's executive director for student wellbeing, testified that CAMHS employee Melanie G. Northrop's lack of summer contact was normal.
John P. Pappas (center) presides over trial. Carrie E. Landa, Boston University's executive director for student wellbeing, testified that CAMHS employee Melanie G. Northrop's lack of summer contact was normal. By Jack R. Trapanick
By Jade Lozada and Jack R. Trapanick, Crimson Staff Writers

WOBURN, Mass. — Carrie E. Landa, Boston University’s executive director for student wellbeing, testified on Thursday that Harvard Counseling and Mental Health Services employee Melanie G. Northrop’s lack of contact with Luke Z. Tang ’18 over the summer was “typical” for university case workers.

The testimony came during the seventh day of the wrongful death trial against Northrop, who is accused of “negligence and carelessness” in her care for Tang — an undergraduate student who died by suicide in September 2015.

Northrop became Tang’s social work case manager after his initial suicide attempt in April 2015. At the end of his freshman spring semester, Tang left campus to go to China over the summer. He did not have another meeting with Northrop before he died by suicide just days into his sophomore fall semester.

While the testimony served to undercut the plaintiff’s claims that Northrop was negligent in her care for Tang, Landa added that Northrop could have made an additional follow-up appointment with Tang before his death.

Landa — an expert witness of the defense — said during direct examination by Northrop’s attorney, William J. Dailey III, that Northrop met the standard of care for Tang and could not force someone to go to therapy.

“She did the things that would be expected of a case manager in a college setting,” Landa said.

Landa added that Northrop properly assessed Tang to ensure he was on a “positive trajectory” and communicated his medical history to Tang’s first-year resident dean. After Tang was discharged from a hospital following his April 2015 suicide attempt, Landa said that Northrop correctly followed Tang’s medical plan.

Michael J. Heineman, one of the attorneys for Tang’s estate, directly asked Landa whether Northrop should have contacted Tang over the summer.

“That’s not standard practice for higher education,” Landa said. “We don’t keep track of every patient when they are not enrolled.”

“I think Melanie took appropriate steps to make sure Luke was monitored by his team at Harvard,” she added.

Heineman also brought up several excerpts from Tang’s medical record, in which notes by Northrop characterized Tang as a “nonchalant” client who “did not appreciate the gravity of his situation.”

In his questioning, Heineman suggested those qualities should have cast doubt on Tang’s assurances that he was no longer suicidal.

The defense, however, pointed out one excerpt from Tang’s aftercare plan — which he had signed and agreed to before discharge — that said he would call 911, tell family or a friend, or take other serious measures if he experienced another “psychiatric emergency.”

Much of the back-and-forth centered around whether responsibility fell on Northrop or Tang to reinitiate contact after his return to campus, given that he had been released, set up with an aftercare plan, and informed of resources by the end of the semester.

After Landa’s testimony, Northrop was called back to the witness stand by her own attorneys to discuss how she worked to educate Tang on his options for receiving care and to monitor his progress following the suicide attempt.

During an appointment on the day of his hospital discharge, Northrop said, Tang completed the Behavioral Health Measure, a 20-question survey that evaluates a person’s mental health status.

Tang received a 3.15 out of 20, which Landa said was as a score that indicated “mild distress that anyone can have.”

Northrop said she discussed Tang’s score with him and encouraged him to seek therapy.

“I understood he really did not want to engage in therapy, which is not unusual for an 18 year-old freshman,” she said, characterizing him as “resistant” to such treatment at first.

Northrop added that Tang preferred to discuss his feelings with friends, pastors, and his advisers.

“I said ‘That’s really great, but you need a bigger and wider safety net than just your friends, and your friends aren’t professionals,’” Northrop recounted. “‘So what I’m asking you to do is go to therapy.’”

Tang agreed to a follow-up appointment with Northrop on May 8. Four days earlier, Tang met with Reverend Larry Mynatt, a spiritual therapist on Tang’s treatment team.

During his follow-up appointment with Northrop, she said, Tang said he wanted to change therapists. Northrop gave Tang a list of three new therapists whom she said met his preferences for a Christian therapist.

While the attorneys for Tang’s estate argued the proper standard of care necessitated further contact, Northrop emphasized that Tang appeared to be in stable condition by the summer.

Thursday was the final day of testimony in the trial before closing statements begin on Monday. Lawyers and Judge John P. Pappas, who presided over the case, will meet on Friday to determine how to present the law to the jury before deliberations.

—Staff writer Jade Lozada can be reached at

—Staff writer Jack R. Trapanick can be reached at Follow him on X @jackrtrapanick.

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