Former UCLA professor arrested over death threats that forced campus to cancel classes

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LOS ANGELES — A former lecturer at the University of California, Los Angeles, who was arrested on Tuesday after police said he emailed an 800-page document and posted videos threatening violence against the school had previously sent messages saying he would “hunt” and kill a teacher, court documents show.

Matthew Harris, 31, was taken into police custody in Colorado following a standoff at his Boulder apartment complex that ended peacefully.

Investigations in California and Colorado began Monday after Harris, who had taught in UCLA’s philosophy department, sent the email to members of the UCLA community. UCLA officials canceled on-campus classes on Tuesday, and the university’s police department tracked Harris to Boulder and contacted law enforcement there.

University officials did not describe the email, but the Los Angeles police chief said Harris was “potentially planning mass violence or a shooting at UCLA.”

Last year, a philosophy professor at the University of California at Irvine obtained a restraining order against Harris. Court documents show Harris sent her mother emails threatening to ‘hunt’ and ‘put bullets in her skull’. Harris’ mother alerted the woman.

Harris is being held in Colorado on state charges and federal charges could be pursued. It was not immediately clear whether Harris, a former postdoctoral fellow at UCLA, had an attorney who could speak on his behalf.

UCLA classes will resume in-person instruction on 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.

Harris emailed his former students just before 1 a.m. Sunday in a missive full of racial slurs against Jews and East Asians, according to the Los Angeles Times. The email included links to his manifesto and videos, the Times reported, including a video titled “UCLA PHILOSOPHY (MASS SHOOTING)”.

Harris’ YouTube channel had over 300 videos, including one on UCLA philosophy. Most were uploaded on Monday, but the account had been shut down by midnight, the newspaper reported.

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 about the Columbine High School mass shooting.

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

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.”

“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.

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. A University of Colorado spokesperson said Harris was not considered a student or employee.

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 — likely the 2021 restraining order — that said he couldn’t buy 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.”

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

Harris completed her thesis, “Continents in Cognition,” at Duke University in 2019.

“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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