Charges in Maryland 'joker' case on deck

Prosecutors face a ticking clock as they continue to build a case against the Crofton man who they believe threatened to commit a workplace shooting while calling himself "a joker."

Authorities said Monday that they plan to file charges against Neil Edwin Prescott, 28, before he leaves the custody of mental health officials, though they did not specify what the charges might be. Prescott has been in custody since a police raid Friday found a cache of more than two dozen guns and thousands of rounds of ammunition in Prescott's apartment.

"We'd want to charge him prior to him being released from the hospital," said John E. Erzen II, a spokesman for thePrince George's Countystate's attorney's office.

Under state law, Prescott cannot be held against his will past early next week without a judge's order. Prescott has not been charged with any crime. Family members have not responded to requests for comment. And prosecutors say they have not heard from an attorney representing him.

Prescott's former boss at a Capitol Heights mail services supplier told Prince George's County police last week that Prescott had threatened to "blow everybody up" and called himself "a joker" in telephone calls. Authorities called it an apparent reference to the mass shooting in a Colorado movie theater that killed 12 and injured 58 others during a screening of "The Dark Knight Rises" earlier this month.

When police visited Prescott's home to investigate the complaint, Prescott answered the door appearing groggy and wearing a T-shirt that read, "Guns don't kill people, I do," according to court records. Officers returned at 3 a.m. Friday and took Prescott into custody. Prince George's Police Chief Mark A. Magaw said in a news conference Friday that officials had thwarted a "violent episode."

Law enforcement officials said Monday that Prescott remains under psychiatric care at an unidentified facility in Maryland. He has been transferred from Anne Arundel Medical Center, where he was initially taken for an evaluation.

Dori Henry, a spokeswoman for the Department of Mental Health and Hygiene, said state-run psychiatric hospitals would not be able to discuss whether Prescott was a patient because of privacy rules.

State and federal law enforcement officials declined Monday to discuss the case further, citing the continuing investigation. The search warrant request filed in Prince George's District Court said Prescott had registered 13 guns.

Prescott was taken for an evaluation with an emergency petition issued by a judge, authorities said. Such petitions are relatively common: About half of the emergency mental health evaluations done at Anne Arundel Medical Center are based on those petitions, hospital spokeswoman Kelly Swan said.

Carol McKenzie, director of admissions at Sheppard and Enoch Pratt Hospital, said patients being held involuntarily receive the same psychological treatment as those who admit themselves. While a judge initially mandated the psychiatric evaluation for Prescott, mental health experts said patients could subsequently choose to stay in treatment.

The treatment typically includes daily psychiatric sessions, group therapy and possibly medication. McKenzie said that under state law, once two psychiatrists have certified a patient should be held for further evaluation, the patient can be held for up to 10 days before a judge reviews whether the person should be involuntarily committed.

Mental health professionals said that being held involuntarily does not necessarily mean someone has a mental illness. Determining who is a threat to themselves or others can depend on a variety of factors, including the context of the threat.

"Not everyone who pulls a knife on someone ends up in a psychiatric evaluation," Johns Hopkins psychiatrist Dinah Miller said.

"You don't want to discharge someone who is dangerous," Miller said, adding that she's not familiar with Prescott's case. "Everyone in the nation is upset with what happened in Colorado. … Anyone who has an arsenal of weapons and is threatening someone should be taken seriously."