Police: Man in Colorado custody over alleged threats to UCLA

LOS ANGELES — A man who allegedly threatened the University of California, Los Angeles and detailed potential violence against the prominent university on hundreds of pages was arrested in Colorado following a standoff on Tuesday.

The man – identified as Matthew Christopher Harris, 31 – was taken into custody on Tuesday morning and is being held in Colorado on state charges following a confrontation with police in Boulder. Federal charges can be pursued.

It was not immediately clear whether Harris had an attorney who could speak on his behalf. Authorities were searching his Boulder apartment.

“In reviewing parts of the manifesto, we identified thousands of references to violence, stating such things as murder, death, murder, shootings, bombs, the Boulder schoolyard massacre and phrases such as ‘burn and attack Boulder outside the university,’” Boulder Police Chief Maris Herold said at a press conference on Tuesday.

The investigation in the two states began Monday after Harris allegedly sent a “threatening email” to members of the UCLA community with a link to his 800-page manifesto threatening violence, officials said. UCLA police tracked Harris, a former philosophy postdoctoral fellow at the prestigious university, to Boulder and contacted law enforcement there.

Los Angeles police became aware of Harris’s online postings, including YouTube videos, and the manifesto Monday night, Chief Michel Moore said at a police board meeting the next day. The material indicated that Harris was “potentially planning mass violence or a shooting at UCLA.”

Moore said the agency’s Departmental Mental Assessment Unit had contact with Harris in the spring of 2021. It was not immediately clear what led to this encounter or what, if anything, happened. passed after.

UCLA officials said in-person classes — which were canceled Tuesday — will return Wednesday.

Considered one of the best public universities in the country, UCLA is located in the affluent neighborhood of Westwood in Los Angeles. The university has over 31,000 undergraduate students and 14,000 graduate students.

Some students have criticized the university for its response to threats, including releasing limited information to the school community.

The Los Angeles Times reported obtaining emails sent to students and faculty showing authorities were investigating the former UCLA professor who allegedly sent a video referencing a mass shooting and an 800-page manifesto. containing threats against people in the philosophy department.

Harris’ YouTube channel had more than 300 videos, the majority of which were uploaded on Monday, The Times reported. But the account had been terminated by the site at midnight.

The threats against UCLA appear to be unrelated to the bomb threats issued Monday — a day before the start of Black History Month — to at least half a dozen historically black universities in five states and the district of Columbia, said Laura Eimiller, FBI spokeswoman in Los Angeles. .

Harris was taken into custody Tuesday morning after negotiators spoke to him by phone, Herold said. Authorities believe Harris had a Boulder connection “but we’re just not sure how deep the connection is here at this time.”

Law enforcement evacuated a nearby school, as well as the University of Colorado Boulder fraternity and sorority buildings during the incident. Residents of 65 homes have been ordered to shelter in place.

It’s unclear whether Harris has any ties to the University of Colorado at Boulder, and the university did not immediately return requests for comment on Tuesday. Herold said police had contact with Harris in October, although no criminal charges were filed and authorities are reviewing their reports of the encounter.

Authorities said he attempted to purchase a handgun in November, but his purchase was denied. Officials believe the deal fell through due to a California-based protective order that stated he could not purchase or possess a firearm.

A search of records by the Associated Press immediately revealed no criminal record. The records link Harris to a 2020 Los Angeles apartment building and list previous addresses in North Carolina and New Jersey.

Harris began working at UCLA in the spring of 2019 as a postdoctoral fellow, according to a newsletter from the university’s philosophy department. He focused on “the philosophy of race, personal identity, and related issues in the philosophy of mind.”

On bruinwalk.com, a website where UCLA students can post anonymous reviews of professors and other staff, students gave Harris low ratings. In a review, a student who took the course in the winter of 2021 wrote that Harris is “grossly unprofessional”.

Another review, by a student who had the course in spring 2020, called the course “Easily my least favorite course at ucla”.

“I have no idea how this guy still teaches,” the student wrote.

Harris completed her thesis, “Continents in Cognition,” at Duke University in 2019. Her Ph.D. The supervisor did not immediately return AP’s request for comment on Tuesday.

UCLA made the decision to switch to remote learning a day after students returned to in-person instruction and said the decision was made out of caution. The university posted on social media the phone numbers of students, faculty and staff seeking advice.

“The threats made yesterday were chilling for many of us and left our community vulnerable in an already difficult time,” said a statement Tuesday signed by Deputy Vice Chancellors Suzanne L. Seplow and Michael Deluca.

The UCLA campus was rocked by a shooting in 2016 when a former student killed his estranged wife in a Minneapolis suburb and drove to UCLA, where he fatally shot a professor. engineering who had been his mentor, then committed suicide.

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Slevin reported from Boulder, Colorado.

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