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Judge's order bans Univ. of Colorado from released records about theater shooting suspect
DENVER (AP) ¯¯¯ Tightening the secrecy over the year James Holmes spent studying neuroscience, a judge has barred the University of Colorado Denver from releasing any records about the former graduate student's time there.
What happened to the 24-year-old during his time in the program at the school's Anschutz Medical Campus is one of the many mysteries stemming from last Friday's mass shooting at a theater in which he's accused of killing 12 Batman moviegoers and injuring 58 others.
Neighbors and friends in California, where Holmes grew up, described him as brilliant and sometimes awkward but never displaying signs of violence. He entered the prestigious Colorado program in June 2011. One year later, he dropped out after taking a year-end oral exam.
Numerous media organizations, including The Associated Press, filed open records requests for school records about Holmes after he was named as the suspect in the shooting just after midnight July 20.
But in an order signed Monday and released by the school Thursday in response to an open records request by the AP, District Court Judge William Blair Sylvester said releasing information in response to requests filed under the Colorado Open Records Act would "impede an ongoing investigation." Sylvester is overseeing the criminal case against Holmes.
Sylvester cited a provision of the Colorado Open Records Act that prevents the public from viewing open records "prohibited by rules promulgated by the supreme court or by the order of any court."
Arapahoe County District Attorney Carol Chambers requested the order after the University of Colorado warned her office about the record requests, according to the judge's order. Sylvester had already issued a gag order barring attorneys and police from discussing the case with reporters.
Mark Caramanica, freedom of information director at the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, called the order "highly unorthodox." He said it was unusual that a public institution would consult with an outside entity instead of just following the law and answering the request.
"It seems very premature for a court to get involved and make such a sweeping order," Caramanica said. "It seems like a very broad and overly aggressive approach."
The order followed a pattern of a tightly controlled flow of information. Hours after the shooting, university officials tried to limit information released about Holmes.
An email from Barry Shur, dean of the graduate school at the university, sent about 11 hours after the attack and addressed to faculty, students and staff, said: "If anyone is contacted by the media, PLEASE refer them" to a school spokeswoman.
Earlier this week, Shur denied that he had tried to prohibit those who knew Holmes from talking.
"We told them they are fully free to interact with the media," he said at a press conference Monday.