PHOENIX -- An Arizona college complied with a court order and released numerous emails about the Tucson shooting rampage suspect, painting a picture of a struggling student with emotional problems who disturbed others with his strange behavior.
At one point, a Pima Community College police officer wanted to expel Jared Lee Loughner after he caused an outburst in a math class in June 2010, but a dean said she wasn’t ready to do so and expressed concerns about Loughner’s due-process rights, according to one of the notes.
The emails released Thursday document several outbursts by Loughner while at the college and efforts by school officials to confront his unusual behavior.
The school was ordered to release 250 emails after The Arizona Republic sued it for withholding documents mentioning Loughner and a judge rejected the school’s argument that the records were protected by a federal privacy law.
Three months before the shooting rampage, campus police asked federal firearms agents to see whether they had any firearms information on Loughner, but the check turned up nothing, according to the emails.
The apparent final straw was a Sept. 23, 2010, disturbance by Loughner. Campus police records say a teacher asked an officer to meet her outside her classroom to deal with Loughner because he was "being verbal disruptive." They do not elaborate on what Loughner allegedly did.
Six days later, officers went to Loughner’s home to serve an immediate suspension notice. He was told to get a mental health evaluation or not return.
Loughner has pleaded not guilty to dozens of federal charges stemming from the Jan. 8 shooting at a meet-and-greet political event. U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and 12 others were wounded in the attack, and six people were killed, including a 9-year-old girl and a federal judge.
Emails sent in the days following the Jan. 8 shooting show school officials wondering if they did enough.
Former college counselor Cecilia Alter said in a Jan. 13 email that she was reflecting on the way students like Loughner were handled, and questioned if there was anything more they could have done. Based on legal advice and the "limited" resources available to the school, Alter said, "I keep coming back to the conclusion that we did the best we could."
But at least one college official thought the school could have done more.
Mark Dworschak, the director of contracts and risk management at the college, said in a Jan. 13 email that he disagreed with another official that responsibility falls to the student to seek psychiatric care, not the college.
"Arizona has one of the most lenient criteria for a commitment procedure which, having read the police reports, should have been initiated," Dworschak wrote. "You don’t dump them as (another official) suggests."
Loughner began attending Pima Community College in 2005. The school’s emails show him becoming increasingly disruptive in the summer and fall of 2010.
A student complained to a writing teacher in February 2010 about Loughner putting a knife on his desk. The complaint was made nearly 11 months before the shooting spree.
The teacher then emailed a school official, saying he didn’t see the knife but noting that another student had a similar complaint.
"I think we ought to have another conversation with Jared to try to get to the bottom of this, and really at this point, I’d like to do everything that we can to have him removed from the class," teacher Steven Salmoni wrote. "I think his presence alone is interfering with the kind of environment that I’m trying to foster in this course."
In related emails, a dean said the matter needed quick attention, while another school official wrote that campus police were looking into Loughner’s background.
Loughner drew the attention of college officials again when he caused a disturbance in a math class on June 1, 2010. The teacher said Loughner appeared to be under the influence of drugs. The next day, counselor DeLisa Siddall met with Loughner.
Loughner told Siddall he felt he was being "scammed" in class and was scared that his freedom-of-speech rights were being jeopardized.
The counselor asked Loughner about the questions he asked during the disturbance. "He said, ‘My instructor said he called a number 6 and said I call it 18.’ He also asked the instructor to explain, ‘How can you deny math instead of accept it."’
Loughner told Siddall he wanted to remain in the class and would stop asking the teacher questions. He also showed proof he was doing the assignments. Siddall says in an email to the math teacher and others that because Loughner said he would remain silent, she had no grounds to remove him.
He returned to the class after their meeting without incident. But the following day, he exhibited intimidating behavior including staring at the teacher and some classmates with an "evil" smile and laughing inappropriately at a remark the instructor made, according to the documents.
Pima Community College Dean Patricia Houston said in an email that a campus police officer wanted to expel Loughner, but Houston said she wasn’t ready to do that and more investigation was needed.
"It is a matter of balancing the disruptive student’s right to due process with the rights of the other students in the class," Houston wrote.
Houston and other administrators decided to let Loughner return to class but to take him aside and talk to him again. But this time, they planned to have an officer nearby.
Two days after Loughner was served with a suspension notice, an agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives sent a one-sentence email to a campus police officer saying the federal agency didn’t find any information on Loughner involving firearms.
Days before, the campus officer had told the ATF agent that Loughner was a "person of interest" and cited his past disruptive behavior.
Loughner was returned to a federal prison facility in Tucson last month after spending five weeks at a Bureau of Prisons facility in Missouri, where he underwent mental exams. A mental competency hearing is scheduled for May 25. Loughner’s lawyers have described their client in court documents as a "gravely mentally ill man."