Should CO University Team Have Issued a Warning About James Holmes?


After the 2007 shootings at Virginia Tech, where 32 students were killed, universities set up committees to assess whether a student represented a threat to the campus community. The University of Colorado Denver’s Behavioral Evaluation and Threat Assessment group (BETA) is under the microscope because one its members, a psychiatrist and university professor, phoned some of the group to discuss one of her patients, James Holmes, says the Christian Science Monitor.

Holmes, who later withdrew from the university's PhD program in neuroscience, is the alleged gunman in the Aurora movie theater shooting, in which 12 people were killed and 58 wounded. Did the BETA group have a responsibility to alert the police that there was a potentially dangerous student? Lawyers say the answer is maybe, maybe not. “The university has a legal duty to protect its students, not the world at large,” says Barry Pollack, a defense lawyer in Washington, D.C. “If they get information about someone who is not a student, it is not in their purview to do anything about it.” On the other side, Boston University law Prof. Kenneth Simons says, “If a student says they are going to kill someone on Monday but drops out of school on Tuesday, there is a duty to take reasonable steps.” The key issue is what Holmes may have actually told school psychiatrist Dr. Lynne Fenton.

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