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AP Exclusive: Red flags trailed academic across elite universities

A police officer escorts people past a police line in front of University Hill Elementary School across from the campus of the University of Colorado after 31-year-old Matthew Harris, accused of making mass shooting threats against the college and UCLA, was arrested, in Boulder, Colo., Feb. 1, 2022. AP reporting on Harris revealed a pattern of disturbing behavior as he lectured at major universities.The police operation caused the evacuation of the elementary school and shelter-in-place orders for nearby residents on Boulder's University Hill. (AP Photo / David Zalubowski)

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Los Angeles law enforcement reporter Stefanie Dazio used interviews, court documents, emails and online classroom reviews to put AP out front with first details of a doctoral student and lecturer who was arrested for deadly threats that closed down the UCLA campus for a day.

Dazio’s work began after Harris emailed a disturbing 800-page “manifesto” to dozens of people at UCLA, forcing the campus to shut down on Feb. 1. Harris was then taken into custody at his apartment complex in Boulder, Colorado, after an hourslong standoff.

While Denver reporters Colleen Slevin and Thomas Peipert covered the standoff,Dazio checked Los Angeles County court records,discovering a workplace violence restraining order against Harris. From the documents,AP was first to report that in emails to his mother, Harris had threatened to “hunt” a professor and “put bullets in her skull.” His mother was so concerned she alerted the professor.

Dazio followed up the next day,posting a tweet seeking UCLA students who had received Harris’ manifesto. That put her in contact with a former Duke philosophy student who knew Harris when he’d been a doctoral candidate at the school. And that former student connected Dazio with others who had known Harris, including a person who knew him when he attended Cornell.

The result was a series of interviews and an exclusive story revealing that Harris’ concerning behavior toward women was well-known among students and some faculty at the elite schools,raising questions about the line between uncomfortable and actionable behavior,a university’s duty to encourage the reporting of it,and an institution’s obligation to prevent it from occurring at another school. Further,what,if anything,did the universities do to get Harris help?

Dazio’s piece was among the week’s most-viewed stories on AP, scoring high reader engagement.

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