As we discussed on Tuesday morning’s Happening Now on Fox News Channel, we’re hearing now that James Holmes’ (the Colorado movie theater shooter’s) psychiatrist informed University of Colorado campus police of concerns that she had about him weeks prior to the movie theater shootings. It’s unclear, however, whether her communication with police was in addition to or part of her previously-reported discussion of Holmes with members of the university’s risk-assessment team (i.e. it’s possible, even probable, that the campus police are represented on the risk-assessment team).
It’s also still unclear what, specifically, Holmes said to the psychiatrist that prompted her to believe there was a high enough potential for harm to justify breaking Holmes’ confidentiality. We don’t yet know whether the psychiatrist was concerned about homicidality or just suicidality or both.
At this point, I still don’t think there’s any reason to jump to the conclusion that this is a “Penn State” situation, wherein the university acted unreasonably and could have prevented a tragedy if it had acted reasonably. Keep in mind, if the concern was that Holmes might do something violent on the university campus and/or commit suicide after failing out of his Ph.D. program, neither of those things happened. It’s not clear yet whether the psychiatrist and/or the campus police had any reason to foresee a mass murder in the broader community of Aurora.
And even if there was reason to be concerned about a threat posed by Holmes to public safety generally, it’s not clear yet that the massacre wouldn’t have happened had the campus police, or even the local police, gone and questioned him. He might very well have said, “No, my doctor’s wrong, I’m not going to hurt anyone,” and then what? Maybe they could’ve held him for 24-72 hours for observation, but if he acted normal during that time, he probably would’ve been right back out. Could they have searched his apartment during that time and found the massacre paraphernalia? Maybe, but only if what he had said gave them probable cause to get a warrant.
Bottom line at this time: The chain of logic connecting any negligence at the University of Colorado to the movie theater massacre still isn’t very strong yet. Will that prevent people from alleging that such negligence resulted in their (and their loved ones’) damages and therefore suing the university? Probably not. Look for lawsuits to be filed by victims and victims’ family members that may ultimately prove to be justified, meritless, or somewhere in between. In the meantime, the university has appointed an independent investigator to review its handling of the concerns that Holmes had raised, but the results of that investigation will likely take months to come out (maybe longer if they confirm that there was negligence and there’s ongoing or threatened litigation).