The Crofton man who police have said called himself "a joker" while threatening a workplace shooting has been charged with a single misdemeanor count of misusing the telephone, authorities said Wednesday.
Police drew national headlines when they announced that Neil Edwin Prescott was in custody, saying they had thwarted a "violent episode" with links to a mass shooting in Aurora, Colo. But on Wednesday, prosecutors found themselves explaining the relatively minor charge as Prescott's friends criticized the handling of the case.
Prince George's County State's Attorney Angela D. Alsobrooks said that she believed the telephone offense was "insufficient" but that the evidence against Prescott, 28, was not enough to charge him with more serious crimes. She said he legally owns the two dozen firearms and thousands of rounds of ammunition seized from his home Friday.
Alsobrooks continued to describe the police raid as "averting what could have been — we believe — a massive loss of life" at a Capitol Heights office of mail services supplier Pitney Bowes.
The raid on Prescott's home was triggered by a complaint from his former boss, who told police Prescott threatened to "load my guns and blow everybody up." Authorities have said Prescott was in the process of being fired, and a Pitney Bowes spokeswoman said he had worked for a subcontractor.
"I believe that when people like Mr. Prescott threaten violence — especially in this day and age — they ought to face felony charges," Alsobrooks said, adding that she planned to lobby the Maryland General Assembly for a law against making threats over the phone.
Defense attorney William C. Brennan, Jr., who is representing Prescott, said he would have no comment on the case before trial. The charge carries a maximum of three years in prison and a $500 fine.
A man who said he's been friends with Prescott for a decade said the absence of serious charges suggests that there's no evidence Prescott planned to carry out a shooting plot.
"Instead of admitting that Neil didn't have the intent to commit any mass shooting as they had originally claimed, the [prosecutor] stated that she was angry that she couldn't find some way to charge him with a more serious crime," Mike Cochran wrote in an email.
Prescott was taken into custody for a psychological evaluation Friday. He remains voluntarily in the care of mental heath experts, Alsobrooks said.
"We're not walking away from this individual by any means," Prince George's County Police Chief A. Magaw said at a news conference. "He'll have a lot of things to answer for when he leaves the hospital."
After the raid on Prescott's Crofton apartment last week, authorities said they believed the threats were a reference to the massacre that killed 12 and injured 58 others in an Aurora movie theater during a screening of "The Dark Knight Rises."
The misdemeanor charge against Prescott — and the promise by prosecutors to try to craft new laws — drew observations from defense attorneys that perhaps prosecutors had trouble finding evidence that Prescott intended to act on the alleged threats.
"If he is charged with only misdemeanor telephone use, the facts don't add up to a major criminal violation," Glen Burnie criminal defense attorney David W. Fischer said. He is not involved with the case.
"They were looking at what happened in Colorado, and they don't want that on their head," Fischer said of prosecutors. "They may want to send a message that what you did was serious and we take threats seriously."
The public accusations made against Prescott can continue to follow him, even if he's found not guilty, said Atlanta attorney Watson Bryant, who represented security guard Richard Jewell. Jewell was falsely implicated in the 1996 bombing of the Atlanta Olympics.
"People still think he was involved with it because he was smeared from the beginning," said Bryant, who has no connection to the Prescott case.
The telephone charge against Prescott makes it seem that prosecutors "probably got no damn case at all," Bryant said. "What they're doing is they're charging him with the only misdemeanor they can find."
Still, Bryant said, police have a responsibility to address threats. "I don't think even a veiled threat shouldn't be taken seriously, especially with the mass shootings that have gone on."
Alsobrooks, the Prince George's prosecutor, said her office and police could not find enough evidence to support charging Prescott with second-degree assault.
She added that Prescott will not have access to the seized weapons before trial. If convicted and sentenced to at least two years in prison — or if a mental health evaluation reveals an illness — Prescott would not have legal access to weapons indefinitely, she said.
People familiar with Prescott, who court records say is 6-foot, 7-inches tall and 270 pounds, have called him a "gentle giant" who did not seem to have any violent tendencies. He had no criminal record in Maryland.
"Quite to the contrary and despite his imposing size … he was a caring gentle guy," Cochran wrote in an email. "He had a big heart to match. He wasn't impulsive or radical, and he had a great sense of humor, even if at times it was politically incorrect and sarcastic."
Cochran said Prescott was a groomsman in his 2005 wedding, an aspiring disc jockey who went by DJ EdwinP, and a computer and video game enthusiast who shared Cochran's interest in guns.
The pair, who first met in 2001 and reconnected on the gun forum mdshooters.com, used to joke about Prescott's resemblance to actor Richard Kiel, who played the larger-than-life bully in the movie "Happy Gilmore" and wore a T-shirt that said "Guns don't kill people — I kill people."
"Ironically, people found that hilarious, but in the wake of the Aurora shooting it's understandable to say that it's bad taste," Cochran said.
Court documents said that when police came to investigate the complaints from his former boss, Prescott answered his apartment door appearing groggy and wearing a T-shirt that read "Guns don't kill people, I do."
Cochran said Prescott was an intelligent, successful network engineer, a hockey fan who spent most of his free time shooting and attending Washington Capitals games, and that he would be shocked if it turned out that Prescott was driven to a violent plot because he lost his job.
"With his skill set and certifications, he would have had no problems finding work."
LG Concannon, a Baltimore DJ, said Prescott worked security at the Mosaic club in Baltimore one summer and once took a turn on the DJ tables.