A Colorado man accused of penning threatening messages directed at the University of California, Los Angeles philosophy department, which led the campus to shift to all remote learning for a day before the man was arrested in Boulder, was declared mentally unfit to stand trial last week.
In the three-page order filed Jan. 27, U.S. District Court Judge Raymond P. Moore in Colorado wrote that he found Matthew Christopher Harris is “presently suffering from a mental disease or defect” leaving him unable to understand the court proceedings against him or defend himself.
Harris, 31, of Boulder, was charged with two counts of making interstate threats, and one count each of lying to a firearms dealer and being a prohibited person in possession of ammunition after prosecutors allege he sent two threatening emails to faculty in the department in late January and early February 2022.
According to a criminal complaint filed the next day by an FBI special agent, the first email contained an 803-page manifesto filled with threats of violence and derogatory language. The second contained videos of Harris “speaking, playing instruments and describing plans to harm others.”
Harris was arrested Feb. 2, 2022 after a standoff with Boulder SWAT officers. Altogether, the charges filed against Harris carry a maximum penalty of 30 years in prison and hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines.
Harris pleaded not guilty on Feb. 3.
The emailed threats led UCLA to cancel all in-person classes the day after they were received. The chief of police in Boulder said Harris’ emails also contained threats against individuals in that city, too.
Harris was a postdoctoral fellow at UCLA in 2021 when the university put him on leave while investigating claims he sent sexually explicit and violent text messages to students. After he sent a threatening email to his mother in North Carolina directed at a University of California, Irvine professor, he was barred from all UC campuses.
Harris’ reported behavior at UCLA in 2021 followed years of bizarre and harassing interactions between Harris and his female classmates at previous colleges he attended, including Duke and Cornell universities, according to the Associated Press.
The manifesto he’s alleged to have sent to UCLA the next year included the word “kill” thousands of times as well as other repeated mentions of violent words and racist language.
Moore’s order last week, which was based on a psychiatric analysis of Harris’ mental state, put Harris in the custody of Colorado’s attorney general’s office, which is required to place him in a treatment facility for at least four months.
After his treatment, the court will determine if Harris is well enough to understand the court proceedings. If not, he’ll continue to receive treatment.
He’ll continue to face the charges before him unless they are waived according to Colorado law, according to the order. If his mental condition improves, the judge wrote, the court will examine whether he was insane at the time of the offenses.
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