Discuss as:

Records show fear of Loughner, lack of mental health intervention

By Bill Dedman

Pima Community College in Tucson has released records of its campus police contacts with student Jared Loughner, showing the increasing fear that he stirred in his classmates and teachers.

A thread running through the documents is the difficulty of campus police to find a context in which to intervene: Until they found a violation of the student code of conduct, or a state law, police officers wrote in the reports that they weren't sure what else they could do, even when a fellow student said she thought Loughner had brought a knife to class. (Not dissimilar from the confusion at Virginia Tech as it tried to deal with Seung-Hui Cho.)

The records show no indication that the college took steps to get Loughner any mental health counseling.

Loughner also seemed not to understand the seriousness of the fears. When police spoke with him, Loughner said his free speech rights were being violated,  and seemed to have trouble understanding why he had been called out of class.

Finally, in September, after Loughner apparently posted a video on YouTube calling the college a scam, and accusing it of genocide, police went to his home to read him a suspension letter. Even then he seemed not to fully understand.

You can read the full records in this PDF file. The Washington Post also has a thorough profile of Loughner's deterioration.

On Feb. 5, 2010, Loughner disrupted a poetry class with comments about strapping guns to babies. The dean added that a student had sent an e-mail reporting that she thought Loughner had a knife in his possession. The police officer wrote, "I told her I would check Loughner's history and see if there was anything we needed to be concerned about that we could link to this kind of behavior. I told her if so we might make contact with him and discuss the concerns with him; and if there was nothing to indicate he might have a trend of misbehavior of this type, that we really didn't have anything to react to in a law enforcement mode at this time. I suggested they keep an eye on him and call us if anything else developed that concerned them."

This "law enforcement mode," of reacting to violations instead of looking to prevent violence, was discussed in today's chat on msnbc.com, regarding the Secret Service study of assassinations. You can read that archived chat here, and here's a Secret Service guide to an approach focused more on threat assessment.

On April 6, 2010, Loughner was disruptive in the library, while he listened to music on the computers.

On May 17, 2010, an instructor reported that Loughner became "very hostile" when told he was receiving a B in the class. He said this was "unacceptable." The instructor said she did not feel comfortable unless an officer stayed in the area until class was over.

On June 1, 2010, Loughner disturbed a math class with incoherent arguments that the instructor was using the wrong number. The teacher was also disturbed that Loughner had written "Mayhem Fest" on a paper; it turned out to be the name of a music festival with death-metal music. Again the police officer said that there was little to be done, because no law was violated: "At this time I have no student code of conduct [violation] or do I have any charges to file on this student. A further investigation is needed to be able to make the decision on the student's ability to stay in class or be with other students." The dean "has advised that the instructor and students in the class are uncomfortble with Loughner inside their class and are afraid of any repercussions that could exist from Loughner being unstable in his actions."

The next day, a counselor talked with Loughner. He denied he was disruptive, saying, "My instructor said he called a number 6 and I said I call it 18." He said he asked the instructor, "How can you deny math instead of accept it?"

Loughner said he wanted to remain in class, and agreed not to ask further questions, or at least not disruptive, philosophical ones.

"This student was warned," the counselor concluded. "He has extreme views and frequently meanders from the point. He seems to have difficulty understanding how his actions impact others, yet very attuned to his unique ideology that is not always homogeneous. Since his resolution was to remain silent in class and successfully complete the course, I had no grounds to keep him out of class." There is no mention of follow-up with his parents, or a mental health evaluation, or further intervention.

On Sept. 23, a teacher reported that Loughner was disruptive and would not let class begin after she told Loughner he would receive only half credit for a late assignment. He said his freedom of speech rights were being violated, and that he should be able to say or write whatever he was thinking. The officers said Loughner clearly had trouble understanding the consequences of his actions. Loughner was prevented from returning to class that day because the teacher and students were uncomfortable.  A follow-up meeting with Loughner was scheduled for the next week. The police officers told an advanced program manager at the college that "through our training and experience that there might be a mental health concern." There was no mention of any mental health intervention. The program manager wrote a week later, "Follow up with the instructor said that Jared was doing ok, was still acting a bit 'bizarre' in class but there had been no further interruptions."

On Sept. 29, 2010, police investigated a YouTube video in which they recognized Loughner's voice and reflection in a window. Signed by "Jared ... from Pima College," it said, "We are examining the torture of students. ... The war that we are in right now is currently illegal under the constitution. ... This is my genocide school. Where I'm going to be homeless because of this school. ... I haven't forgotten the teacher who gave me a B for freedom of speech. ... This is Pima Community College, one of the biggest scams in America. ... If the student is unable to locate the external universe, the student is unable to locate the internal universe. ... This is genocide in America. ... Thank you... This is Jared ... from Pima College."

The video also rails about currency moving off the gold standard, about "illiterate" students and teachers, and says, "I don't trust in god."

Later that day, officers went to the Loughner home to read him a letter of suspension, while two other officers waited as backup in the neighborhood. "While inside the garage," the officer wrote, "I spoke with Jared who held a constant trance of staring as I narrated the past events that had transpired." Finally he ended his silence, saying, "I realize now that this is all a scam." The officers said they had a brief conversation with Loughner's father in the back yard, and they left.

There's nothing in the records to indicate that the college or its police department pressed for any further intervention, once Loughner was suspended in September. He withdrew in October, the college previously reported, when the college said he would need a mental health clearance before he could return to class. But with Loughner not attempting to return to school, there's no indication that he got such an evaluation.

Nearly four months later, Loughner was accused of killing six people and wounding 14 others in Tucson.

Update: The New York Times adds:

"The college overhauled its procedures for dealing with disruptive students last year. As part of a revision to the code of conduct, it introduced a Student Behavior Assessment Committee, a three-member team that includes the assistant vice chancellor for student development, the chief or deputy chief of the campus police and a clinical psychologist from outside the college.

"The team meets as needed to respond to students who have acted violently or threatened violence, or who may pose a threat to themselves or others. It came into existence in September, the same month Mr. Loughner was suspended following the five disruptive incidents reported to campus police.

"A campus official involved in setting up the behavior committee, Charlotte Fugett, president of one of the college’s five campuses, would not say whether the committee heard Mr. Loughner’s case."