DENVER – The man arrested in Boulder Tuesday after an elementary school was evacuated and after alleged threats to the University of California Los Angeles made his first court appearance Thursday in Denver, and more details about the alleged threats were detailed in court documents.
Matthew Christopher Harris, 31, made his initial appearance in the U.S. District Court of Colorado. He faces one federal count of making threats in interstate commerce.
In court Thursday, Harris was told he qualified for the appointment of counsel and the potential penalties he faces if he is convicted. A judge set a preliminary and detention hearing for Tuesday morning. The government is seeking detention in the case, saying he is viewed as dangerous to the public because of the threats made against various institutions.
An affidavit written by an FBI special agent based in Colorado details Harris’s history of alleged threats to UCLA and others over the past year.
Harris had been a philosophy professor at UCLA before he was put on leave last year when he sent a group of female students emails “which contained offensive/inappropriate content,” the affidavit says, including videos titled, “Christopher Dorner idolization” and, “Beat a feminist unconscious.”
Christopher Dorner was the former Los Angeles Police Department officer who killed four people and wounded three others in a shooting rampage in February 2013 before he died in a shootout at a cabin in the mountains outside of Los Angeles.
Harris had previously written violent emails to his mother threatening to kill a processor at the University of California Irvine, and later, himself, which his mother at the time did not report to law enforcement.
After he sent the emails to students, Harris’s mother forwarded an email to several members of the UCLA Philosophy Department indicating he had made “disturbing comments” about his former colleagues.
Last April, a UCLA Behavioral Intervention Team coordinator forwarded UCLA police details of a conversation they had had with Harris’s mother. She reported she hadn’t seen her son in five years until he showed up at her home in North Carolina. She said she was sleeping with a knife next to her because she was worried about what her son might do to her and her husband when they were sleeping. The UC Irvine processor was notified of the threats Harris allegedly made against her.
In mid-April last year, according to the affidavit, UCLA police issued a threat watch for Harris, and his mother agreed to initiate an involuntary commitment for her son. He was hospitalized for about a month in North Carolina before he returned to Los Angeles in mid-May.
At that time, UCLA police asked for a judge to issue a Gun Violence Emergency Protective Order – California’s version of a “red flag law” – against Harris, which was granted. In June, police were granted a 21-day temporary restraining order barring Harris from going near any California college campuses and possessing any firearms.
A week later, another TRO was granted, this time for three years, which was filed by University of California regents. It also barred Harris from being on California college campuses, from communicating with the UC Irvine professor whom he had threatened, and from possessing any weapons.
The affidavit contains few details about what transpired in Harris’s life between June 2021 and Jan. 31 of this year.
It says the FBI learned on Feb. 1 – the day of the Boulder elementary school evacuation – that Harris had tried to buy a .38-caliber revolver on Nov. 2 last year at a gun shop in Wheat Ridge, but the purchase was denied because the red flag order had been entered into the National Instant Criminal Background Check System Section (NICS).
According to the gun shop’s owner, Harris had also lied on the application and said he had not been previously committed.
The FBI was also told by Harris’s mother on Feb. 1 that she had not spoken to her son for about five months but learned he had moved to Colorado sometime last summer and “was told by his doctors that he had schizophrenia,” according to the affidavit.
On Jan. 31 around 2 p.m. MT, according to the affidavit, Harris sent an email to 35 people containing an 800-page manifesto he called “death sentences” and links to videos on his YouTube channel, which included a video called “UCLA PHILOSOPHY (MASS SHOOTING)”.
Several people who received the email and reported it to the FBI. The manifesto “outlined Harris’ hatred for various entities,” the affidavit says, and made vulgar references to killing white people, Jewish people and Asian people, members of Congress and more. The threats named several philosophy faculty members and former students at UCLA.
He also made references to the Columbine High School shooting, Jon Benet Ramsey and Boulder.
“Set fire in the woods near mansions or gated communities. … Do it in Boulder Colorado. Do it everywhere rich cr—ers live. Even if they have insurance they’ll be horrified as they watch their mansion and wealth become a target for violence,” read one passage, according to the affidavit.
“Kill the fathers of Boulder high school,” read another part of it.
The FBI and police pinged Harris’s phone Jan. 31 and found he was in Boulder at an apartment at 955 Broadway. UCLA police warned University of Colorado police about the threats, and investigators watched and spoke with him into the early-morning hours of Feb. 1.
Just before 3 a.m. on Feb. 1, one of the women whom Harris had been sending emails to got another email with more threats.
Boulder Regional SWAT was brought in to help, and nearby schools, homes and businesses were evacuated in the area, including University Hill Elementary.
Boulder County officials said police had contacted Harris last October, but no criminal charges were filed.
“The importance of having collaboration at the federal, state and local levels was critical to the swift resolution of this incident this morning,” Boulder Police Chief Maris Herold said Tuesday after Harris was arrested. “This incident today is yet another reminder of the ongoing need for strong relationships with our federal law enforcement partners to protect the Boulder community.”
Harris is due back in federal court Tuesday for his preliminary and detention hearings. He did not enter a plea during Thursday’s hearing.