Neil Edwin Prescott, 28, was being held involuntarily at Anne Arundel Medical Center for evaluation after being taken into custody Friday. John E. Erzen II, a spokesman for thePrince George's County state's attorney's office, said Prescott could be held for evaluation for up to a week while law enforcement authorities consider the case.
The absence of criminal charges in such a high-profile case sparked questions among legal observers.
Prescott was taken into custody at his apartment early Friday after his former supervisor at a mail services supplier in Capitol Heights told police Prescott had made repeated threats on the telephone. According to a search warrant application filed in court, Prescott said he wanted to see the supervisor's brain "splatter all over the sidewalk" and said, "I am a joker. I'm going to load my guns."
Police said they seized two dozen weapons from Prescott's home in Anne Arundel County on Friday, along with thousands of rounds of ammunition. Officials said his alleged threats against a former workplace supervisor raised concerns that he might have been planning a mass shooting similar to the one that took place at a premiere of the film "The Dark Knight Rises" in Aurora, Colo.
Officials in Prince George's County, where Prescott used to work, said Saturday that they are handling the case cautiously. Prince George's Police Chief Mark Magaw said during a news conference Friday that he believed authorities had averted a "violent episode" by taking Prescott into custody.
Potential charges "are still being looked at to see what would be appropriate," Erzen said. He said getting a psychiatric evaluation for Prescott was a precautionary measure. "You just want to be sure. You want to look at everything ... for the safety of those in the community and the individual."
Attempts by The Baltimore Sun to reach Prescott's parents or other relatives have been unsuccessful. It is unclear whether he has an attorney. Prescott has not been charged with any crime, and according to the warrant application, he had registered at least 13 of the guns.
Jason Castonguay of Baltimore said he knew Prescott through an informal group of computer enthusiasts who used to meet at the Inner Harbor.
"We are all kind of computer guys," Castonguay said. He said Prescott would sometimes tease people online, but there was no indication that he was violent.
Steven Silverman, a criminal defense attorney not involved with the case, said he's surprised that authorities haven't charged Prescott, given the allegations that have been made public in the case.
"You would think there would be something to charge him with," Silverman said. "Charges can always be added or amended."
Defense attorney Andrew L. Alperstein, who represented two brothers who were charged with assaulting a teenager in Northwest Baltimore in 2010, said he believes authorities are taking their time to build a case.
"They're going to look for any charges they can place," he said. "The difficulty is that he hasn't done anything yet."
He said authorities could file a relatively minor charge of telephone misuse. If evidence were to show that Prescott attempted to execute a plan of violence, prosecutors could pursue more severe charges. If police believed he was working with another person, he could face conspiracy charges.
It is not uncommon for police to request emergency evaluations, Alperstein said. "Obviously, we're very sensitive after what happened in Colorado, so when they see the signs, they try to be proactive."
Towson defense attorney Brian G. Thompson said police would have to establish a course of conduct showing intent.
"It's not a crime to threaten people in this country" unless you make some attempt to carry it out, he said. If someone "repeatedly makes separate phone calls with the intent to harass," that person could be charged with telephone misuse or harassment.
Emergency psychological evaluations can help determine whether a person poses an "imminent risk to themselves or others, said Dr. Adam Kaplin, an assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.
"'Imminent' is the key," Kaplin said. "You really need to make a judgment call. We don't have magic ways of deducing this." He said a patient's history is often a strong indicator of risk.
Agent Michael D. Campbell, a spokesman for theBureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, said federal charges also could be possible.