A Crofton, Md., man who was hospitalized after police said he made threats to open fire at his former workplace will be charged with one misdemeanor count of telephone misuse, Prince George's County police and prosecutors announced Wednesday.
Neil Prescott, 28, has remained hospitalized since he was taken into custody for a mental evaluation Friday after police said he threatened violence against a supervisor in phone conversations. Authorities raided his home and found 25 guns and a stockpile of ammunition. All of the guns were owned legally, county State's Attorney Angela Alsobrooks said.
Although officials said they still consider Mr. Prescott's actions indicative of a serious threat, they were unable to bring more serious charges against him.
"Unfortunately, Maryland does not have a law that makes it expressly illegal for a person to communicate generalized threats over the telephone," Ms. Alsobrooks said, adding that she plans to lobby lawmakers in Annapolis next year about establishing such a law. "He ought to be facing felony charges, not just misdemeanor charges."
Police initially said a large-scale attack had been averted and Mr. Prescott, who has no prior criminal record, could face federal charges because of the nature of the threats. No federal charges had been filed as of Wednesday, and Ms. Alsobrooks said Mr. Prescott's case would be heard on the Prince George's County District Court's mental health docket, a specialized docket that incorporates treatment components into the handling of criminal cases.
The charge of telephone misuse is punishable by up to three years in jail and a $500 fine.
The threats were made during phone conversations with a supervisor as Mr. Prescott was being fired from his job at Pitney Bowes in Capitol Heights, police said.
"I am a joker; I'm gonna load my guns and blow everybody up," Mr. Prescott reportedly said during conversations, adding that he would like to see the man's brain spattered on the sidewalk, police said.
The supervisor inferred that the "joker" reference was to the Joker character from the Batman franchise and evoked fear of the carnage that took place a week earlier in an Aurora, Colo., movie theater when a gunman opened fire during a showing of the Batman movie "The Dark Knight Rises." Aside from using the term "joker," Prince George's County Police Chief Mark A. Magaw said, Mr. Prescott made no overt references to either the Colorado shootings or the movie.
The Pitney Bowes supervisor reported the threats to police, leading Anne Arundel County police on Thursday to contact Mr. Prescott at his Crofton apartment, in the 1600 block of Parkridge Circle. Early Friday morning, police served a search warrant and discovered the cache of guns in his apartment, including high-powered rifles and handguns and several loaded guns next to his bed.
Mr. Prescott appeared "unstable" and was taken in for an emergency psychiatric evaluation, Chief Magaw said. He has since agreed to be held voluntarily and has been transferred to a different hospital.
"It's hard to measure what you prevented, but all the elements were here. We believe a tragedy was averted in this case," Chief Magaw said.
It was unclear when Mr. Prescott would be released from the hospital, but Ms. Alsobrooks said state law would prevent him from being able to regain possession of the guns seized by law enforcement or to purchase any new guns while his case is pending.
She suggested that in addition to creating a new threat statute, the state also should have tighter restrictions in place to prevent people with mental illnesses or disabilities from possessing firearms. Neither Anne Arundel nor Prince George's county police officials had any knowledge of Mr. Prescott having had any documented mental illness issues in the past.
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