LOS ANGELES (AP) — Classes were set to resume Wednesday at the University of California, Los Angeles after a former professor was arrested on suspicion of threats of violence against the school in online videos and an 800-page document sent by email.
Matthew Harris, 31, was taken into police custody in Colorado on Tuesday following a standoff at his Boulder apartment complex that ended peacefully.
Months before the UCLA threats, Harris had been placed under a restraining order after sending threatening messages saying he would “hunt” and kill a professor, according to court documents.
UCLA officials canceled in-person classes Tuesday after police said Harris, who had taught in UCLA’s philosophy department, sent the email early Sunday to some of his former students. The university police department tracked Harris to Colorado and contacted law enforcement in Boulder on Monday.
University officials did not describe the email, but Los Angeles Police Department Chief Michel Moore said Harris was “potentially planning mass violence or a shooting at UCLA” . The university has over 31,000 undergraduate students and 14,000 graduate students.
In Boulder, Police Chief Maris Herold said officials reviewed the manifesto and “we identified thousands of references to violence, stating things such as murders, deaths, killings, shootings , bombs, schoolyard killings in Boulder and phrases such as ‘burn and attack Boulder outside the University.’
Herold said police had contact with Harris in October, though 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.
Harris was furloughed from UCLA last year and a philosophy professor at the University of California, Irvine was granted a restraining order against him after he emailed his mother threatening to ‘fire’ the professor and “put bullets in his head”. Harris’ mother alerted the woman.
Harris’ mother and the professor could not be reached for comment.
Colorado prosecutors said Tuesday night that federal charges are pending against Harris and he has been transferred to federal custody.
It was not immediately clear whether Harris had an attorney who could speak on his behalf.
The police search for Harris began after he sent his former students an email early Sunday that was full of slurs against Jews and East Asians, according to the Los Angeles Times. The email included links to what police called a manifesto and videos, the Times reported, including one titled “UCLA PHILOSOPHY (MASS SHOOTING)”.
Harris makes racist comments in several of the videos and cryptically names specific locations on the UCLA campus, noting that they have been added to his “list”, according to the Times.
The UCLA video included footage from the 2017 mass shooting at a Las Vegas music festival, the newspaper reported, as well as clips from “Zero Day” _ a 2003 film that was loosely based on the mass shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado.
Harris, who appeared to have no criminal record, 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, Harris received low ratings. In a review, one student wrote that Harris was “extremely unprofessional.”
“I have no idea how this guy still teaches,” another student wrote.
Harris came to UCLA after completing his thesis, “Continents in Cognition,” at Duke University in 2019. Duke is where he first met the woman who was the subject of the court order. ‘prohibition. They had “minimal contact” but he contacted her to discuss career advice in September 2020 because he had recently moved to Los Angeles, according to court documents.
The woman was initially happy to meet Harris, but “their initial interaction left her very uncomfortable and concerned about his behavior,” according to court documents.
Harris “began an aggressive campaign” of text messages and emails to the woman, causing her to fear for her safety, according to court documents. She told him to stop contacting her in March 2021.
Separately, UCLA that month placed him on investigative leave for “predatory behavior” when the school discovered he had been sending pornographic and violent content to students, according to court documents.
In April, the professor was contacted by Harris’ mother, who told her that four months earlier her son had sent her emails saying he wanted to be closer to the Irvine campus where the professor worked. so he could kill her, according to court documents. UC Irvine is about 80.5 miles south of UCLA.
“I couldn’t live with myself if I did nothing and someone got hurt,” Harris’ mother wrote to the woman. His mother had not seen her son in five years and thought he needed psychiatric help, according to a court document.
University of California regents sought a workplace violence restraining order last May, the day after UCLA officials learned that Harris had been released from a mental health facility and was back in Los Angeles. A temporary restraining order was granted immediately and a longer protective order _ in place until 2024 _ was approved less than a month later.
Court documents say the UCLA Police Department and its behavioral intervention team were aware of the threats against the professor and contacted the FBI.
UCLA’s director of media relations did not return a request for comment Tuesday on the restraining order. The FBI declined to comment.
–Slevin reported from Boulder, Colorado. Associated Press reporters John Antczak and Christopher Weber in Los Angeles and Thomas Peipert in Denver contributed.
About the photo: A bomb detection device sits near the playground behind University Hill Elementary School across from the University of Colorado campus after a man was charged with uttering words mass shooting threats against the college as well as the University of California, Los Angeles, was arrested on Tuesday, February 1, 2022 in Boulder, Colorado. The police operation prompted the evacuation of the elementary school and shelter-in-place orders for nearby residents on Boulder’s University Hill. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)