DENVER (AP) — A federal judge on Thursday ordered a former lecturer at the University of California, Los Angeles, to be held without bail in Denver after he allegedly threatened violence against the prominent school in online videos and an 800-page document sent via email earlier this week.
Matthew Harris, 31, was taken into custody Tuesday in Colorado and charged with the threat. He had lectured in the university’s philosophy department until being put on “investigatory leave” last year.
Harris appeared in federal court in Denver to be advised of his rights Thursday. Dressed in a black shirt, black shorts with his arms handcuffed and his ankles shackled, he appeared to look down or have his eyes closed as the magistrate judge asked him a series of questions.
He did not turn to look at Magistrate Judge S. Kato Crews and answered “yes” flatly to each question about his rights and whether he understood the proceedings.
Harris is charged with transmission of threats in interstate commerce. He did not enter a plea Thursday.
U.S. Assistant Attorney Julia Martinez said the government would like to keep Harris in custody while prosecuting him, saying Harris had made threats against a “whole host” of people and institutions. A hearing will be held Tuesday to decide whether Harris should continue to be held.
Harris’ federal public defender, Mary Butterton, declined comment after the hearing.
The emails prompted UCLA to hold classes remotely Tuesday; they had just returned to in-person teaching the day before. The university has more than 31,000 undergraduate students and 14,000 graduate students.
While university officials have not described the emails, Los Angeles Police Department Chief Michel Moore said Tuesday that Harris was “potentially planning for a mass violence or shooting event at UCLA.”
A seven-page affidavit, written by an FBI special agent, details a period of unstable behavior beginning in January 2021, when Harris allegedly emails his mother about his plans to “hunt” down and kill a University of California, Irvine, professor. He had briefly met the professor years ago when they were both at Duke University and then allegedly harassed her via email and text message in 2020 and 2021.
In March, the affidavit states, Harris again allegedly emailed his mother. This time he threatened to harm himself. A few days later, he asked his mother, “Is UC Irvine reopening for classes in person?”
On March 30, UCLA police were alerted to Harris’ behavior after he sent about 20 emails to female students in his research group. The emails allegedly contained inappropriate and offensive content, according to the court document.
The university placed him on “investigatory leave” later that day.
Harris in April showed up at his mother’s home in North Carolina, despite a bad relationship during which he allegedly threatened her and her cat in emails over the previous year.
His mother slept with a knife next to her – and her cat in her bedroom – because she feared what Harris might do to them in her sleep, the affidavit states. He also allegedly shoved her, hard enough that she hit the wall behind her, when she knocked on his bedroom door.
UCLA police urged her to seek to have her son involuntarily committed to a psychiatric institution when she reported his behavior to the university, the affidavit says.
Harris was then hospitalized for about a month in North Carolina, but almost immediately returned to Los Angeles after.
UCLA police in May requested a Gun Violence Emergency Protective Order to prohibit Harris from going near any University of California campuses – including UCLA and UC Irvine – as well as contacting the Irvine professor and possessing any guns.
That gun violence protective order – as well as subsequent restraining orders sought by the UCLA police and University of California regents — went into a national criminal background check database that would later cause Harris to be denied a gun purchase in Colorado.
Harris moved to Colorado sometime in the summer of 2021, his mother told the FBI, after his diagnosis of schizophrenia while he was involuntarily committed.
In November, Harris allegedly tried to buy a .38 caliber Smith and Wesson model “Bodyguard” revolver at a gun shop in Colorado but his request was denied. He also answered “no” to a question that asked if he had ever been committed to a mental institution, the affidavit states.
Harris, who didn’t appear to have any 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. His focus was on “philosophy of race, personal identity, and related issues in philosophy of mind.”
He completed his Ph.D. at Duke University in North Carolina in 2019, where he briefly met the woman who would later be the protected party in the restraining order.
Dazio reported from Los Angeles.