Suspect of threats against UCLA in custody in Boulder, Colorado.
A former UCLA professor arrested by Colorado police on Tuesday after allegedly sending campus members a video referencing a mass shooting threatened to hunt down and kill a University of California professor last year and was then prohibited from approaching her, according to court documents.
Matthew Harris, who was fired by UCLA last year following widespread complaints about his behavior as a philosophy postdoctoral fellow, emailed his mother twice in January 2021 that he planned to shoot the professor with an MP5 submachine gun “for giving me schizophrenia”, the Los Angeles County Superior Court documents said. His mother warned the professor in April, sharing the emails that were forwarded to UCLA, according to court documents.
The UC system filed for a work restraining order in May to prohibit Harris from approaching the professor, sending him emails, leaving voicemail or entering any UC. Campus. In the court filing, a UCLA attorney noted that Harris “regularly escalated reported conduct incidents with students involving graphic elements of a sexual and violent nature, which resulted in him being placed on leave of absence. ‘investigation … now has outright death threats against the petitioner’s employee.’
In June, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge David Swift issued a three-year restraining order against Harris.
Harris was peacefully arrested at 11:07 a.m. after a three-hour barricade of his apartment, Boulder police said. Officials said his manifesto contained references to Boulder “in a college and a schoolyard.”
“The level of violence we saw in the manifesto was obviously alarming,” said Boulder Police Chief Maris Herold. “It was very violent and it was very disturbing.”
Boulder police contacted Harris in October but did not say more about the incident.
Prosecutors and police had been in “close communication” with federal prosecutors and the FBI since Tuesday morning, according to the Boulder County District Attorney’s Office.
Federal charges against Harris are pending, county prosecutors said.
“As a result, he is now transferred to federal custody,” the district attorney’s office said.
Law enforcement sources said Harris could face threats and weapons charges.
Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore said Tuesday he believes the UCLA campus is safe.
In a message to campus Tuesday, UCLA officials told students they were “very relieved” Harris was in custody and offered on-campus counseling to anyone who needed it.
“The threats made yesterday were chilling for many of us and left our community vulnerable in an already difficult time,” said Suzanne L. Seplow, Assistant Vice Chancellor for Student Development and Health, and Michael Deluca , Deputy Vice Chancellor for Campus Life. .
Several students, however, complained that UCLA was too slow to alert the campus to threats and announce that classes would move online for security reasons.
Sherrilyn Roush, chair of the philosophy department, sent an alert to department members at 3:27 p.m. Monday that Harris had begun contacting UCLA with threatening emails and YouTube videos and said campus police and specialists of the behavior “were urgently investigating”.
At 6:30 p.m., someone posted a subsequent alert from the department on Reddit recommending that professors hold classes remotely because the material included a video titled “UCLA Philosophy Mass Shooting” and an “800-page manifesto with specific threats to some members of the department. “Several emails from philosophy department heads and several instructors obtained by The Times on Monday evening alerted students that in-person classes would not be taking place.
UCLA tweeted its first campus-wide post at 9:25 p.m., saying UCLA police were aware of a “concerning email and post” sent to some Bruins. Police were engaged with law enforcement outside the state and would keep the community informed, the tweet said.
This created an instant reaction on Twitter. “What @UCLA and @UCPDLA fail to inform students and staff is that this ’email of concern’ is a major mass shooting threat at UCLA,” one person tweeted.
It wasn’t until 11:57 p.m. that UCLA tweeted that all classes would be held remotely “out of an abundance of caution.” Campus police were “actively working with outside and federal agencies,” the tweet read. At the time, UCLA did not release information about the location of the person of interest.
Asked about the delay in notifications, a UCLA spokesperson pointed to administrators Seplow and Deluca’s statement on Tuesday thanking campus police and other law enforcement for “thoroughly investigating these threats as soon as we became aware of and for coordinating the location and arrest of the individual in Colorado.”
But Lizette Garcia, a 22-year-old sociology student, said she was “speechless” that the distance learning notification came so late and failed to mention the mass shooting threat that had been circulating for hours on the streets. social networks. She was in a Zoom class on Monday night when her phone started exploding with messages about Harris and her threats over a GroupMe chat with her classmates. For the rest of the evening, Garcia remained glued to her phone, scrolling through Reddit, Twitter and GroupMe threads for details of what was going on. She checked her email several times, waiting to hear from UCLA officials and her professors about it.
Halfway through the midterm season, Garcia put all of her homework and studies aside, unable to concentrate. The Orange County resident said she didn’t want to go to bed without knowing if classes would be held remotely and criticized the late notification as “rather unprofessional”.
Jorge Cruz, a PhD student in Chicano studies, also discovered the threats via a WhatsApp group chat, a teacher’s assistant and the Daily Bruin student newspaper before any official notice from the university. But he didn’t blame UCLA.
“I don’t blame the university,” Cruz, 29, said. “At the end of the day, they were probably trying to get all the facts right. I think they handled the situation as best they could.
Moore said the LAPD became aware Monday night of “online media postings involving YouTube videos and a manifesto” by a former UCLA lecturer, indicating that he was “potentially planning mass violence or a shooting at UCLA”.
The chief said the department’s Mental Assessment Unit had already been in contact with the individual in the spring of 2021 and the department had taken the online threats seriously.
In the January 2021 emails Harris sent his mother, he compared himself to the gunman who slaughtered 26 people, most of them children, at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut in 2012 and Christopher Dorner, a former LAPD officer who killed four people and injured three. others in a series of shootings in Southern California in 2013.
The UC professor he threatened to fire first met Harris at another university in 2013. Harris contacted her again for career advice in September 2020, but after emails increasingly aggressive, the professor began to fear for her safety and asked her to stop contacting her. March, according to court documents.
Harris’ mother forwarded the violent emails to the professor in April, saying she “felt physically ill reading them.” The mum also wrote: ‘I’m sorry to impose all of this on you out of the blue, I just know I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t do anything and someone got hurt,’ say the court documents.
In May, a Los Angeles judge granted a restraining order prohibiting Harris from possessing firearms, an order separate from the one regarding workplace violence. The court order said he had threatened to murder a former colleague with an MP5 submachine gun and made reference to former active shooters.
That order placed Harris on a national database of people not allowed to buy or own a gun, triggering the denial of his attempted gun purchase in Colorado in November.
On Sunday, Harris sent an email just before 1 a.m. to his former students, filled with racial slurs against Jews and East Asians. Administrative Vice-Chancellor Michael Beck confirmed in an Instagram video Monday night that UCLA staffers were aware Harris had messaged students.
According to an email sent to members of the psychology department and obtained by The Times, UCLA police told a member of the department of ecology and evolutionary biology that “at this time, nothing concerns us.”
Harris’ YouTube channel had more than 300 videos, the majority of which were uploaded on Monday. At midnight, the channel posted a message that the account had been terminated.
A video titled “UCLA PHILOSOPHY (MASS SHOOTING)” was released on Sunday and contained disturbing footage, including footage from the 2017 mass shooting at a Las Vegas music festival and clips from the 2003 film “Zero Day”, which is loosely based on the Columbine Mass Shooting in high school.
In several videos, Harris makes racist comments. He also cryptically names specific locations on the UCLA campus as he says they are added to his “list.”
He speaks off camera while playing a video game in which he runs around a virtual city, shooting cars and people with a gun.
In a video, he repeats: “Do you make explosives?
“One day the s— might actually hit the ventilator,” Harris said.
The Times obtained a partial copy of Harris’s email from the UCLA philosophy department.
It refers to race and uses several profanities. He included links to his manifesto and videos, including the video that appeared to threaten a mass shooting.
“War is coming,” he wrote. “before say [expletive] to our golden-headed Caucasian princess.
In reviews left on bruinwalk.com, a site where students can post anonymous reviews of professors and other staff, two students described Harris’ disturbing and erratic behavior as a lecturer.
Harris “is extremely unprofessional and sent his personal p*rnographic content to a student,” according to one review.
In a separate post, another student described Harris’ class as their least favorite at UCLA “ever” and said many students complained to the department about his behavior.
A spring 2019 philosophy department newsletter indicated that Harris would join the university as a postdoctoral fellow in philosophy after completing his dissertation at Duke University.
“He works on the philosophy of race, personal identity and related issues in the philosophy of mind,” the newsletter states.
Harris was placed on leave last year as campus officials investigated reports he sent a video with pornographic content to a student, according to the Daily Bruin. His term as a postdoctoral fellow was due to end in June.
Times staff writers Kevin Rector and Gregory Yee contributed to this report.