James Holmes Was Referred to CU Campus “Threat Assessment Team” Before Aurora Shooting

Shooting suspect James Holmes and CU Psychiatrist Lynne Fenton

Here we go . . . Raise your hand if you didn’t suspect this was coming. The Denver Post has learned from “a source” that:

The University of Colorado Denver psychiatrist seeing accused murderer James Eagan Holmes was so alarmed by his behavior that she notified the campus-wide threat assessment team [known as the Behavioral Evaluation and Threat Assessment, or BETA] that she helped create years before, a source told The Denver Post.

The source apparently didn’t specify what it was about Holmes’ behavior that frightened the psychiatrist. Fenton first called the threat assessment team about Holmes in “the first 10 days of June,” but once Holmes began the process of withdrawing from the CU doctoral program in neuroscience the so-called BETA team dropped their inquiry.

Dr. Lynne Fenton, identified in a court document as Holmes’ psychiatrist, in June took her concerns to members of the campus’ Behavioral Evaluation and Threat Assessment team but no further action was taken, a source with knowledge of the process told The Post….

The information was first reported late Wednesday by Denver’s KMGH-TV. The station, citing unnamed sources, reported that CU-Denver officials did not contact Aurora police before the July 20 massacre at the Century Aurora 16 theater that killed 12 people and injured 58 others. There was no mention in the report of whether CU-Denver police were notified.

According to the Denver Post article, the BETA team consists of a “group of high-level academic employees skilled at assessing potential threats on campus” It does not include anyone from the campus police department.

ABC News also claims to have confirmed all of this with their own sources. They quote a “threat assessment expert,” Barry Spodak regarding Holmes’ withdrawal from the university:

“You know, I think that’s the signal that you should intensify your efforts, not walk away,” said Barry Spodak, a threat assessment expert. “Under those circumstances, most well-trained threat assessment teams would have gone into action.”

How stupid is that? The university is going to held liable for knowing that Holmes was acting strangely. Why would they assume that his withdrawing from the program meant they were no longer responsible for monitoring him? I’m sure we’ll soon be hearing about other people who were concerned about Holmes’ behavior and did nothing.

UPDATE: The Denver ABC Channel has even more details.

Sources said when Holmes withdrew, the BETA team “had no control over him.”

“It takes more than just statements,” said one source, explaining that Holmes would have had to tell Fenton “something specific” before she would have to report it to law enforcement.

“He would have to tell her he had taken steps to make it happen,” said another source.


29 Comments on “James Holmes Was Referred to CU Campus “Threat Assessment Team” Before Aurora Shooting”

  1. roofingbird says:

    I wonder if he sensed it and decided it was time to leave?

    Is she required to report him to the police? If she is the psychiatrist, and theoretically able to assess these things, why did it even have to go to another dept. except as a courtesy notification? You know, there are some Paterno type nuances here that bespeak of possible general campus vulnerablities.

    • roofingbird says:

      And yeah, it was pretty stupid.

    • bostonboomer says:

      She has to report him if he makes specific threats, but it’s complicated because she also is required to protect his privacy. I think he would have to say what he planned to do and when and be taking actions to prepare.

      • bostonboomer says:

        Psychiatrists can’t predict behavior, and they’re notoriously bad at assessing what people will do. The assessment team would have a number of people with experience of detecting whether someone is a threat. But in practice, I doubt if they’re all that good at it either.

  2. bostonboomer says:

    From the Denver Channel report:

    Sources also say, after the shootings, Aurora police interviewed at least one person that Fenton contacted to discuss her concerns about Holmes.

    • allimom99 says:

      I don’t know the law in CO, but here in CA there has to be a very specofic threat before she would be allowed to warn law enforcement. Under HIPAA, the privacy concern is nearly paramount. If she were found to have violated it, it could cost her AND the university dearly. Which unfortunately, it probably will anyway.

      It’s actually EXTREMELY difficult to hospitalize someone involuntarily, and even then if the person improves enough in 72 hours to seem capable of funtioning independently, are usually discharged. His intelligence may have allowed him to hold it together better than many of these patients.

      • bostonboomer says:

        Yes, it’s very difficult. As I said above, he would have to have made a specific threat toward a specific target. As you say, it is almost impossible to force people into treatment these days. If the police were contacted about an immediate threat, they could get it done.

      • surfric says:

        Re: hospitalization. Usually if a person were considered an imminent danger to himself or others, authorities would give him a choice of voluntary hospitalization (which doesn’t turn out to be that much of a choice). Under that rubric, the patient has the right to sign himself out, and must be released after 72 hours of signing the papers, unless there is a reason to keep him. That doesn’t mean they will let him go though. Always the not so subtle threat exists that they could commit him involuntarily if he doesn’t cooperate with treatment, or insists on signing himself out against medical advice. Yes, authorities are loath to commit anybody involuntarily, but will if they have to. If they do, the patient is in for a long time, not necessarily in a nice, private, acute setting, and does not have the right to sign himself out in 3 days. So practically speaking, a person who is hospitalized involuntarily (committed) is not getting out in anything close to 3 days. It is not difficult to do at all. The hospital asks a judge to commit him, and it’s done.

      • Eric Pleim says:

        Re: hospitalization. Usually if a person were considered an imminent danger to himself or others, authorities would give him a choice of voluntary hospitalization (which doesn’t turn out to be that much of a choice). Under those conditions, the patient has the right to sign himself out, and must be released after 72 hours of signing the papers, unless there is a reason to keep him (and there always is). That doesn’t mean they will let him go though. Always the not so subtle threat exists that they could commit him involuntarily if he doesn’t cooperate with treatment, or insists on signing himself out against medical advice. Yes, authorities are loath to commit anybody involuntarily, but will if they have to. It is routine to schlep a judge down to the hospital, bada bing, bada boom, the patient is committed on the say so of the hospital. If they do, the patient is in for a long time, not necessarily in a nice, private, acute setting, and does not have the right to sign himself out in 3 days. So practically speaking, a person who is hospitalized involuntarily (committed), or for that matter voluntarily, is not usually getting out in anything close to 3 days.

      • bostonboomer says:

        Thanks, Eric. I’m aware of all that. But these are all moot points, since no one seems to have tried to hospitalize Holmes. It appears that Lynne Fenton didn’t have enough to report him to police. We’ll learn more as time goes on.

  3. HT says:

    In a world where nothing can be explained, people are always looking for an explanation. Although I do not know all the details involved with her interaction with Holmes, I wonder whether she is being set up as a scape goat.

    • bostonboomer says:

      She followed procedure and reported it to the BETA team. The university is going bear the brunt of the lawsuits.

      • I think you are right about that BB.

      • surfric says:

        Apparently it is a procedure she made up herself. Reporting a patient to an internal committee is not the same as reporting a dangerous person to the police. If it is found that she had sufficient reason to think that Holmes presented an imminent, credible threat, (like “I have guns and I’m going to kill random people”), and she didn’t tell the cops, she could very well be in trouble. Also, one wonders how effective such a committee could be if the case is just dropped when the guy withdraws from school. From that fact the committee seems to be a CYA committee.

    • northwestrain says:

      At this point his behavior may have been like thousands of other males with emerging mental health issues. Like several of us have pointed out — when someone is in an alternative reality — that person is not even part of the real world. Even crazy people don’t understand other crazy people.

      My sister would have conversations with someone “living in her head”. She would deny that she was hearing voices — to her way of reasoning — real people are communicating with her. Very often there is no way that mental patients can be convinced that is not normal. Many if not most think that they are normal — and we are the crazy ones.

      Thankfully people like Holmes are very rare — problem is the one ones in the US can get their hands on weapons of mass murder.

  4. She set up the Assessment Team and its protocols, per Anderson 360.

  5. ANonOMouse says:

    This guy sounds a lot like Jared Loughner. It makes you wonder how many of these seriously mentally ill people, who are also a danger to society, are out there.

    BB….Don’t symptoms of schizophrenia usually manifest in late teens or early 20’s. If so do you believe he was a paranoid schizophrenic? I had a friend while in my 20’s, who, at about the age of 22, began telling us that she was being followed and watched. She became so paranoid she forced the dentist to pull a tooth because she thought she was getting some sort of radio reception through that tooth. A few of us called her parents who lived in another state to come and get her help because we were too young to handle it. She ended up committed to an institution. Last time I heard she was still there.

    • HT says:

      At one time, next door neighbour was a paranoid schitzophrenic. George was a lovely person. Not all para schitzo’s are violent – most are not. Mental health issues are on more health issue and should be addressd. Unfortunately in a country that is focused on sex and women’s parts I doubt that is will happen and perhaps Holmes is the harbinger of what is ocming.

    • bostonboomer says:

      That’s very sad about your friend. It sounds like she had paranoid schizophrenia. I’ve said that Holmes shows some signs of schizophrenia, but we really don’t know enough to be sure yet.

      Schizophrenia develops in late teens and usually won’t show up after about 35 at the latest. It often develops when kids go away to college. The disease is inherited, but it won’t manifest without environmental stress. Even though twins have identical DNA, it’s possible for one twin to develop the disorder and the other twin to remain healthy.

  6. Hey, this is OT but I had saved the link for tonight’s reads…but with the migraine, well…you know.

    WaPo’s Express Night Out Omits Gabby Douglas From Coverage of Women’s Gymnastics Team’s Gold Medal Win [updated] | Angry Black Lady Chronicles

    Gabby competed in all four events and scored 1/3 of the points. She was an integral if not the integral component to the women’s victory last night. She hails from Virginia Beach which is not that far from Washington, D.C. Yet somehow, her name goes unmentioned in the article, and the photo Express Night Out chose to publish shows Gabby off to the side in the background with her back to the camera.

  7. Eric Pleim says:

    Someone quoted in the news on this case said a psych would have to have the name of a specific individual the patient had plans of harming before he or she could report him. This can’t be accurate. I understand that if the clinician believes the patient presents an imminent threat to others, i.e. has weapons, a plan, and a clear intention to kill people, he is still required to report the patient to police even if he doesn’t know the names of potential victims. I think the confusion arises from the circumstances surrounding the Tarasoff case and duty to warn provisions. In the original case, the doctor was sued by parents of a specific target his patient had said he intended to kill, (and later did kill) because the psychologist did not warn that target that there was a credible death threat against her. The clinician did report the patient to the police, who unfortunately did not believe him to be a serious threat, and later the patient stabbed Tarasoff to death. So yes, in order to warn a potential victim that they are a target for harm, one needs to know who that victim is, and the clinician has a duty to warn (post Tarasoff). The fact that the psychologist knew the identity of the potential murder victim is relevant to the failure to warn that victim, not to turning him into police, which he did, and would have done whether or not the patient disclosed the name of the target. If a patient has a convincing plan and intention to kill people who are not identifiable in advance, he still has to be turned in to the cops.

  8. Eric Pleim says:

    BB, I was actually replying to Allimom above you about just psych hospitalizations in general. I can’t seem to put the posts exactly where I want them sometimes. I’m sure you know all that, but not everybody knows that voluntary hosp. isn’t all that voluntary etc. etc.

    I hope we do learn more about what James said to Fenton, and what triggered a referral to the BETA team , but not the cops, but of course we may not. It would be interesting to see Dr. Fenton in court on the TV (you know that’s coming) getting grilled about prescribing herself drugs and all. I guess it is possible that the courts could subpoena all her records, and we will learn what James said, but I’m not holding my breath. What makes me think he did disclose some nasty stuff is his notebook that reportedly outlined his plans that he saw fit to send to the shrink. Yah, we don’t know much, but it sure is an interesting case.

    • bostonboomer says:

      Eric,

      No problem. I’m very curious about the behaviors that triggered Fenton’s call to the BETA team. I’m assuming she didn’t have enough specifics to call the police, but I could be wrong of course.

      I took care of my elderly mother-in-law for many years, so I’ve experienced all these problems firsthand. She was clinically depressed and may have had one or two manic episodes. She was frequently psychotic and refused to bathe, etc.

      It took a couple of years for me to get her admitted to a hospital. I repeatedly called crisis lines, and even had some clinicians come out to the house to evaluate her. They couldn’t convince her to go either. After repeated calls and visits to the emergency room, I finally convinced a doctor to help me talk her into signing herself in. Then she refused to take any meds once she was admitted. She was very resistant because she had been hospitalized at the old Mass Mental Hospital when she was only 16 years old. Who knows what horrible tortures she endured back then (1930s).

      She eventually was given shock treatments, which she hated and feared. After 6 months, the hospital released her. She was hospitalized many more times and each time it was a struggle. I finally located a very good geriatric psychiatrist who was able to help her with antidepressants and anti-psychotic meds. That gave us a little more stability, although she continued to be resistant to treatment during her periodic deep depressions.

      • Eric Pleim says:

        So sorry to hear of your travails with your MIL, and thanks for writing about it. I’m sure there are people dealing with similar issues in silence out there who will benefit from your experience. Of course, that is a very different circumstance than what we are talking about with Holmes, who was high functioning, and maybe not mentally ill at all, just evil.

        That said, the only thing to do with a person who has a plan for mass murder is to lock him up for a psychiatric reason (since we don’t have laws against thought crime, yet). If he had a partner and communicated his plans, you could get him on conspiracy, but the lone wolf who doesn’t break any laws until the massacre is hard to defend against. One of the sad aspects of this case is that you can arm yourself to the teeth like Holmes did and not break any laws. Even Romney couldn’t get his head around that at first.

  9. BTW thanks BB for filling in yesterday!

  10. Dr. Felton, the psychiatrist, in this case, made a grave error that resulted unnecessarily in multiple deaths and injuries. She should have ordered a mental hygiene arrest (patient is involuntarily taken to a psychiatric emergency department of a hospital to prevent patient from harming self or others and to further assess lethality and mental status).

    We now know that Mr. Holmes was being treated for Schizophrenia, a psychotic disorder. When a Schizophrenic patient is especially symptomatic (eg. with hallucinations, delusional thinking, bizarre behavior and speech, etc.), he or she is out of touch with reality. It appears that Mr. Holmes had active psychotic symptoms. It also appears that the themes of Mr. Holmes’s hallucinations and delusions were ones of violence and harm to others. Otherwise, Dr. Felton would not have brought her concerns to the BETA team, the university’s danger assessment team.

    Recognize that Dr. Felton, as a psychiatrist, is well trained in lethality assessment. Dr. Felton should NOT have consulted with the BETA regarding any decision to psychiatrically hospitalize Holmes or not. That was a decision for the psychiatrist to make right there in her office. Safety of the patient and others he may harm is the ultimate priority, and Dr. Felton knows it. There should be no guesswork. Any doubts should result in a mental hygiene arrest. Obviously, Dr. Felton had doubts.

    Protecting confidentiality ceases to be a factor when there is a concern regarding lethality. Whether Mr. Holmes would have been admitted to a psychiatric hospital after a mental hygiene arrest is not a factor either. Based on the information provided thus far, a mental hygiene arrest was clearly indicated.

    By the way, Dr. Felton should have been the psychiatric expert on the BETA team. Reporting concerns to the BETA team did NOT take away Dr. Felton’s responsibility or liability. The BETA team should not have had power to assess the danger of one individual.

  11. themommyquad says:

    To me, the university’s negligence in this case is clearly related to the negligence of coaches and administrators at Penn State who refused to investigate much less report Sandusky’s molestation of children. We seem to have reached a crisis point in this country in which academia (which signs my paychecks) does not feel accountable to the larger communities it is supposed to be serving. Once Holmes was no longer an enrolled student, the University of Colorado figured it was no longer accountable for his behaviors, which is disgusting. It is time for the academy to re-enage with society and with its social responsibilities.

    • bostonboomer says:

      I agree. Speaking as someone from an academic family who has worked in and/or attended universities most of my adult life….