9OYS Investigates: college cites "errors" in Loughner reporting
TUCSON (KGUN9-TV) – If, as Pima Community College told 9 On Your Side earlier this week, Jared Lee Loughner's behavior was not threatening, then why did it order him to have a mental health professional prove that as a condition for returning to campus? And if it did consider him a threat, why did no one from PCC alert off-campus authorities? Those questions lie at the heart of the debate over PCC's handling of Loughner in the weeks preceding the Tucson mass shootings.
PCC is still ignoring questions and refusing interview requests from KGUN9 News. But in the wake of recent KGUN9 News coverage, PCC's third-party marketing and public relations consultant, Cindy Klinge, did send 9 On Your Side an e-mail Monday night making a number of "clarifications" to what she called "errors" in recent media reports.
Near the top of her error list: reports about "The College's interactions with Jared Loughner." Klinge summarized the college's dealings with Loughner this way: "In our interactions, he was not violent nor did he threaten others or himself. He had no known history of violence." She described his classroom conduct as only "disruptive." She said the behavior was "a code of conduct matter."
Klinge did not explain why, if Loughner's behavior were only a code of conduct matter, PCC told him he couldn't come back unless he could find a mental health professional willing to certify that he posed no threat.
9 On Your Side has obtained e-mails from PCC police showing that just days before the shootings, something made officers so alarmed about Loughner that they issued an alert, circulated his picture and ordered an increase in patrols of the Northwest Campus. Loughner's most recent postings on YouTube, containing long, rambling, incoherent typed statements about PCC, government and currency, prompted the alert. But PCC has provided no background information to explain why such gibberish, taken alone, would have led to such an alert.
Klinge's statement to 9 On Your Side has left State Rep. Matt Heinz confused. He's co-sponsoring a bill that would require colleges, among other government entities, to report to law enforcement and mental health agencies any suspensions or expulsions that result from threats or violence.
Given Klinge's remarks, would Loughner's suspension qualify for such notification under the terms of Heinz' bill? KGUN9's Claire Doan put that question to Heinz Tuesday in a phone interview.
Doan: "The PCC PR person told us that Loughner's behaviors at the college weren't threatening or violent. So would your bill apply to him in any way?"
Heinz: "On multiple occasions, his behavior constituted a threat to people and his surroundings, including faculty members as I recall, so I'm a bit perplexed by what you just told me. What I'm hearing you convey to me from that representative doesn't really jibe real well with what I've heard and seen."
Nor does it jibe particularly well with 50 pages of campus police reports that 9 On Your Side obtained earlier. Those reports, obtained via a public records request that KGUN9 News filed in January, show a pattern of disturbing behavior from Loughner.
The extensive history of the school's dealings with Loughner include: a comment he made in class about "strapping bombs to babies"; a student fearing that Loughner had a hidden knife in his possession; a division dean saying Loughner has a "dark personality and is kind of creepy"; and at least one instructor who was so spooked by Loughner that she requested an officer to hover nearby while she taught.
"She spoke with Loughner outside the classroom, and felt like it might become physical," the report stated.
PCC's division dean was told, "The instructor and students are uncomfortable with Loughner inside their class and are afraid of any repercussions…"
If a student is making others feel threatened -- and eventually gets suspended for that -- does that mean the student was suspended for threatening behavior? Or was it only for "disruptive" behavior, as Klinge describes it? The difference may seem at first glance to be a mighty fine hair to try to split, but the answer would determine whether the school would be forced to report the student under the terms of Heinz' proposed legislation.
9 On Your Side also tested another of the assertions that Klinge made on Monday. Specifically, in her Monday e-mail Klinge labelled as an "error" the suggestion that "The College did not share information with local law enforcement." Klinge went on to say that PCC officers are local law enforcment, pointing out that they are sworn and certified by the Arizona Peace Officers Standards and Training Board. She then asserted that those officers did share information with off-campus law enforcement about Loughner. "They file their own reports and share a database with Pima County Sheriff's Office."
Does the Pima County Sheriff's Department agree that it received notification about Loughner? In a word, no.
9 On Your Side put that question to spokesman Jason Ogan. Ogan said that entering information into the database that Klinge referenced does not amount to an alert or notification. "It's simply a bank where files, reports and other information can be stored. The Sheriff's Department does not monitor nor does it investigate reports that other agencies place in the system," Ogan told Doan.
As part of her explanation for that "error" label, Klinge went on to point out that it is standard procedure for campus officers notify another agency when delivering a suspension notice off campus. "The PCC police department contacts the agency in whose jurisdiction the notice is being delivered," she wrote.
Again, Ogan resisted calling that process a notification or sharing of information. He said that it is less a matter of contact – and more of a courtesy call.
Doan: "PCC told us that when they delivered the suspension notice to Mr. Loughner, they contacted the Sheriff's Department. Do you know anything about that?"
Ogan: "I went up and spoke with a few people around, And it was something to the effect of -- If we're going into someone's jurisdiction, we just call and give them a heads-up and say we'll be at this address. That's as far as it goes," Ogan said.
After Klinge e-mailed her statement Monday evening, KGUN9 News responded with this follow-up question: "If Loughner's behavior was not threatening, then why did PCC insist that he obtain a clearance from a mental health official certifying that he was not dangerous as a pre-condition for returning to campus?" Klinge did not respond.