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"Joker" Prosecutor's Claims Support University's Liability // Revelations in Criminal Case Bolster Negligence Claim

24.08.2012 - 16:09

These new reports add weight to earlier revelations - e.g., that Holmes was seeing at least three university psychiatrists before the shooting; that he was regarded as at least a "High Risk" by Dr. Lynne Fenton, the university psychiatrist who warned the campus police; that, contrary to the Threat Matrix used by the university, its Behavioral Evaluation and Threat Assessment [BETA] team did not "develop (an) active plan monitoring and management plan" and "possible liaison with local police to compare red flags" - which provide a strong basis for arguing that CU was negligent in failing to recognize the signs and take appropriate action to protect the public, says public interest law professor John Banzhaf who correctly predicted that a civil law suit would be filed.

The evidence increasingly being made public suggests strong parallels to other shootings by university students, such as the Virginia Tech massacre, where there were many signs which the university arguably should have detected and acted upon beforehand in time to prevent the shootings, says Banzhaf, and in many of those cases the universities involved reportedly quietly settled law suits rather than risk even further revelations and the embarrassment of having all the information rehashed at a civil trial.

Indeed, according to at least one report about the University of Colorado, "an official who has been briefed on the investigation and spoke to CBS News on the condition of anonymity said Holmes' statements to university officials as well as their notes and reports will raise questions about whether more could have been done before the shooting. 'The question, what did the university know, and when did they know it, is still the untold part of this story,' the official said." This, says Banzhaf, suggests that there are even more damaging revelations likely to come out in the future.

In summary, it now appears that:
* Holmes made threats about imminent harm serious enough to force university psychiatrist Lynne Fenton to breach psychiatrist-patient privilege by reporting them to the university police and to members of the BETA team;
* Holmes' behavior was bizarre enough that even his non-psychiatrist professors became concerned enough to want him kept out of their labs;
* Holmes was seeing at least two other university psychiatrists who either didn't recognize the threat nor take action to protect the public;
* the university deemed the threat serious enough to require a criminal background check;
* CU didn't follow its own guidelines as outlined in its Threat Matrix;
* CU did no followup when Holmes was subject to the additional stresses of being forced out of the program, losing his stipend, and being forced to leave his apartment.

Professor of Public Interest Law
George Washington University Law School,
FAMRI Dr. William Cahan Distinguished Professor,
Fellow, World Technology Network,
Founder, Action on Smoking and Health (ASH)
2000 H Street, NW, Suite S402
Washington, DC 20052, USA
(202) 994-7229 // (703) 527-8418