CHICAGO, ILLINOIS – The psychiatrist who treated suspected movie-theater shooter James Holmes made contact with a University of Colorado police officer to express concerns about her patient’s behavior several weeks before Holmes’ alleged rampage, sources told ABC News.
The sources did not know what the officer approached by Dr. Lynne Fenton did with the information she passed along. They said, however, that the officer was recently interviewed, with an attorney present, by the Aurora Police Department as a part of the ongoing investigation of the shooting.
Fenton would have had to have serious concerns to break confidentiality with her patient to reach out to the police officer or others, the sources said. Under Colorado law, a psychiatrist can legally breach a pledge of confidentiality with a patient if he or she becomes aware of a serious and imminent threat that their patient might cause harm to others. Psychiatrists can also breach confidentiality if a court has ordered them to do so.
“For any physician to break doctor-patient confidentiality there would have to be an extremely good reason,” said Dr. Carol Bernstein, a psychiatrist at NYU Langone Medical Center and past president of the American Psychiatric Association.
Bernstein has no specific knowledge of the Holmes case and spoke in general terms.
“Confidentiality is a key part of the doctor-patient relationship,” she said. “It is central to everything we do.”
ABC News and affiliate KMGH-TV in Denver first reported Wednesday that Fenton had contacted other members of the university’s threat-assessment team about her concerns. The university-wide, threat-assessment team reportedly never met to discuss Holmes after he announced his intent to withdraw from the University nearly six weeks before the July 20 shooting that left 12 dead and 58 injured.
University of Colorado spokeswoman Jacque Montgomery declined to comment on what, if anything, the university police officer might have done with information provided by Fenton, citing a court-issued gag order preventing her from confirming or denying any information related to Fenton or the investigation.
In a written statement to ABC News, however, the university said campus police officers are “frequently involved” in meetings of the university’s Behavioral Evaluation and Threat Assessment (BETA) team.
The statement went on to say that police involvement with threat assessment “could include security matters, badge access, background checks, wellness checks, criminal investigations and referrals and outreach to other law enforcement agencies.”