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PHOENIX – The college where the Tucson shooting suspect once was a student on Thursday released a slew of emails written in the months before he was suspended, painting a picture of Jared Lee Loughner as a struggling student with emotional problems who disturbed others when he brought a pocketknife to class.
Pima Community College was ordered to release the roughly 250 emails after The Arizona Republic sued it for withholding records mentioning Loughner. A judge rejected the school's argument that the records were protected by a federal privacy law.
The emails show 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 that left six dead and 13 wounded, including U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.
The teacher writes that he didn't see the knife, but notes 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," writing teacher Steven Salmoni wrote to a school official. "I think his presence alone is interfering with the kind of environment that I'm trying to foster in this course."
A dean said the matter needed quick attention, while another school official wrote that campus police were looking into Loughner's background, the emails show.
Loughner began attending Pima Community College in 2005 but was later kicked out because of behavior campus police considered disturbing. He was told to get a mental health evaluation or not return.
The school has released thousands of other pages of documents but had fought to keep the emails private.
Attorney John Richardson, who represents the college, had argued the emails were confidential student records and the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act prohibited the school from releasing them. He contended only Loughner could give permission to release the documents that had been withheld.
Republic attorney David Bodney said the school was required to release the records under Arizona's public records law. He said emails to and from administrators and other officials regarding Loughner are not the same as grades or other official records maintained by the registrar's office.
Loughner, 22, has pleaded not guilty to 49 federal charges stemming from the Jan. 8 shooting at a meet-and-greet event.
He 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.