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Police: Man in custody in Colo. over alleged threats to UCLA

Feb 1, 2022, 12:09 PM | Updated: Jun 13, 2022, 3:40 pm
FILE - UCLA campus in Los Angeles (Google Earth Pro)...
FILE - UCLA campus in Los Angeles (Google Earth Pro)
(Google Earth Pro)

LOS ANGELES (AP) — A man who allegedly threatened the University of California, Los Angeles, and detailed potential violence against the prominent university over hundreds of pages has been taken into custody in Colorado following a standoff Tuesday.

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

It wasn’t immediately known if Harris had a lawyer who could speak on his behalf. Authorities were searching his Boulder apartment.

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

The investigation in both 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 postdoctoral philosophy fellow at the prestigious university, to Boulder and reached out to law enforcement there.

UCLA officials said in-person classes — which had been canceled Tuesday — will return on Wednesday.

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

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

The Los Angeles Times reported that it obtained emails that were sent to students and faculty showing that authorities are investigating the former UCLA lecturer who allegedly sent a video referencing a mass shooting and an 800-page manifesto with threats against individuals in the philosophy department.

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

The threats toward UCLA appear to be unrelated to bomb threats made Monday — one day before the start of Black History Month — to at least a half-dozen historically Black universities in five states and the District of Columbia, FBI Los Angeles spokesperson Laura Eimiller said.

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

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

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

Authorities said he attempted to buy a handgun in November but his purchase was denied. Officials believe the transaction did not go through because of a California-based protection order that said he could not purchase or possess a firearm.

A records search by The Associated Press did not immediately show any criminal records. The records tie Harris to a Los Angeles apartment building in 2020, and listed 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. His focus was on “philosophy of race, personal identity, and related issues in philosophy of mind.”

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

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

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

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

UCLA took the step of switching to remote learning a day after students returned to in-person instruction and said the move was made out of an abundance of caution. The university on social media posted telephone numbers for students, faculty and staff seeking counseling.

“The threats made yesterday were frightening for many of us and caused our community to feel vulnerable at an already challenging time,” said a statement Tuesday signed by Assistant 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 traveled to UCLA, where he fatally shot an engineering professor who had been his mentor and then killed himself.

___

Slevin reported from Boulder, Colorado.

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Police: Man in custody in Colo. over alleged threats to UCLA