A former lecturer at the University of California, Los Angeles was sentenced to detention without bail on Thursday for threats of violence against the school in online videos and an 800-page document emailed to dozens of people.
The email was sent Monday, and UCLA canceled in-class classes Tuesday as a precaution. Later that day, 31-year-old Matthew Harris was arrested in Boulder, Colorado, where he lived. Harris had taught in the university’s philosophy department until he was placed on “investigative leave” last March.
Harris is charged with transmitting threats in interstate commerce. He pleaded not guilty during an appearance in federal court in Denver where his public defender, Mary Butterton, noted that Harris had no criminal record.
Prosecutor Julia Martinez said authorities would like to keep Harris in custody for the time being, saying he made threats against a “multitude” of people and institutions. Another hearing is scheduled for Tuesday.
According to the criminal complaint, Harris emailed about 35 people, some of whom later contacted the FBI. The email contained links to what police called a manifesto and videos, including one titled “UCLA PHILOSOPHY (MASS SHOOTING)” which included footage from the 2017 mass shooting at a music festival in Las Vegas and clips from “Zero Day,” a 2003 film loosely based on the Columbine High School mass shooting.
The manifesto contained numerous racist threats and used the words “bomb”, “kill” and “shoot” more than 12,000 times, according to the complaint written by an FBI special agent. Authorities said the manifesto also contained a passage where Harris said he wrote it “right outside JonBenet Ramsey’s house.”
The former Ramsey family home is less than half a mile (0.8 kilometres) from Harris’ apartment. Six-year-old JonBenet Ramsey was found clubbed and strangled to death in his family’s basement in 1996. His killer was never found.
After receiving information about the email, UCLA police performed an “emergency ping” on Harris’ cell phone and discovered that he was in Boulder, according to the document. Local police visited his apartment complex, where they saw him leaving his unit “shouting profanity and appearing very agitated”.
They tried to call him twice, to no avail. Later he spoke to an officer through the door but refused to come out. Then Harris sent an email referencing the police outside. The expletive-filled missive also read “the harder you try to stop this message, the more violence you will unleash,” the criminal complaint said.
Harris was taken into custody after voluntarily leaving his apartment.
Harris’ mother told authorities he was diagnosed with schizophrenia last year and the complaint details a period of extremely volatile behavior by Harris from January 2021 when he emailed his mother about his intention to “stalk” and kill a professor at the University of California at Irvine. . He had briefly met the professor years earlier when they were both at Duke University, then allegedly harassed her via email and text in 2020 and 2021.
In March, according to the complaint, Harris emailed her mother again. This time he threatened to hurt himself. A few days later, he asked his mother, “Is UC Irvine reopening for in-person classes?”
On March 30, UCLA police were alerted after sending about 20 emails with pornographic and violent content to female students in their research group. The university placed him on “investigative leave” later that day.
In April, Harris showed up at his mother’s home in North Carolina. He had previously threatened her and her cat, and she began to sleep “with a knife next to her and with her cat in her room with her because she feared what Matthew Harris might do to them during their sleep,” the complaint reads.
UCLA police urged her to involuntarily commit her son to a mental institution after reporting his behavior to the university. She did, and Harris was hospitalized for about a month, then returned to Los Angeles.
In May, UCLA police applied for an emergency gun violence protection order barring Harris from approaching University of California campuses — including UCLA and UC Irvine — as well as contacting the Irvine professor and possess firearms.
That protective order — along with subsequent restraining orders requested by UCLA police and University of California regents — were entered into a national criminal background check database that, in November, resulted in Harris being turned down when he attempted to purchase a handgun in Colorado.
Harris has completed her doctorate. at Duke and soon after began working at UCLA in the spring of 2019 as a postdoctoral fellow. He focused on “the philosophy of race, personal identity, and related issues in the philosophy of mind.”
Harris moved to Colorado in the summer of 2021 after being diagnosed with schizophrenia, her mother told the FBI.
Dazio reported from Los Angeles.