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How the FBI Can be Aware of Suspects Before They Commit Crimes

How the FBI Can be Aware of Suspects Before They Commit Crimes

The disclosure by the FBI to The Associated Press creates a new timeline for when law enforcement was first alerted to Anderson Lee Aldrich, the recent Colorado shooter, as a potential danger. Previously it was thought Aldrich only became known to authorities after making the threat on June 18, 2021.

The grandparents were concerned about Aldrich even before the 911 call, according to the document, with the grandmother telling authorities she and her husband had been “living in fear” because of Aldrich’s “recent homicidal threats toward them and others.”

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As part of the FBI’s probe, the agency said it coordinated with the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office, which had responded to the June 18, 2021, call from Aldrich’s grandparents and arrested Aldrich, now 22, on felony menacing and kidnapping charges. But about a month after getting the tip, the FBI closed its assessment of Aldrich, who is nonbinary and uses they/them pronouns.

Those charges were later dropped for unknown reasons. Under Colorado law, cases that are dismissed by either prosecutors or a judge are automatically sealed to prevent people from having their lives ruined if they do not end up being prosecuted. Authorities have cited the law in refusing to answer questions about the case but a coalition of media organizations, including the AP, has asked the court to unseal the records.

The shooting occurred more than a year later at Club Q just before midnight on Nov. 19 when Aldrich opened fire as soon as they entered the club, firing indiscriminately with an AR-15-style rifle while wearing a ballistic vest, according to an arrest affidavit that was written the day after the shooting but not unsealed until Wednesday evening.

The affidavit does not provide any new information about what motivated Aldrich, but says that Aldrich expressed remorse to medical staff shortly after the shooting and said they had been awake for four days, according to police officers guarding their room at the hospital. It doesn’t including anything more about what Aldrich may have told investigators.

The FBI is now helping to investigate the shooting. Xavier Kraus, a former neighbor of Aldrich and their mother, told the AP Wednesday that agents have interviewed him in recent days about a free speech website Aldrich created that has featured a series of violent posts, glorifying violence and racism.

“It was meant for people to go and pretty much say whatever they want with the exception of the two rules: No spamming and no child pornography,” Kraus said. “If I would have known what it was going to turn into, that would have struck a different chord with me.”

How the FBI already had Aldrich on their radar

The information conveyed to the FBI about Aldrich, which has not been previously reported, marks the earliest known instance of law enforcement officials being warned about Aldrich, and the shooting is the latest attack to raise questions about whether people who once caught the attention of law enforcement should have remained on the FBI’s radar.

An FBI assessment is the lowest level, least intrusive, and most elementary stage of an FBI inquiry. Such assessments are routinely opened after agents receive a tip and investigators routinely face a challenge of sifting through which of the tens of thousands of tips received every year could yield a viable threat.

FBI guidelines meant to balance national security with civil liberties protections impose restrictions on the steps agents may take during the assessment phase. Agents, for instance, may analyze information from government databases and open-source internet searches, and can conduct interviews during an assessment. But they cannot turn to more intrusive techniques, such as requesting a wiretap or internet communications, without higher levels of approval and a more solid basis to suspect a crime.

More than 10,000 assessments are opened each year. Many are closed within days or weeks when the FBI concludes there’s no criminal or national security threat, or basis for continued scrutiny. The system is meant to ensure that a person who has not broken the law does not remain under perpetual scrutiny on a mere hunch — and that the FBI can reserve its resources for true threats.

This content was originally published here.

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