The Maryland man who police say referenced the Joker as he threatened mass violence against his employer in Prince George's County is facing one misdemeanor charge that could jail him - at the most - for three years, authorities said Wednesday.
Prosecutors have obtained a warrant charging Neil Prescott, 28, with one count of misuse of telephone facilities, which carries a maximum penalty of three years in prison and a $500 fine, Prince George's County State's Attorney Angela Alsobrooks said at a news conference. Alsobrooks said prosecutors researched more serious charges, such as second-degree assault, but were hampered by the fact that Maryland "does not have a law that makes it expressly illegal for a person to convey generalized threats over the telephone."
"He ought to be facing felony charges, not just misdemeanor charges," Alsobrooks said, noting that she would lobby state legislators to pass a law criminalizing general threats.
Alsobrooks and Prince George's Police Chief Mark Magaw said it is possible that Prescott could face federal charges, but they were unsure what those might be.
For now, authorities said, Prescott remains hospitalized and receiving treatment for mental health issues. He will be served with a warrant upon his release, authorities said. William Brennan, Prescott's attorney, said his client was at the hospital voluntarily.
"Mr. Prescott is currently hospitalized in a secure facility and is receiving treatment," Brennan said. "My client and his family request privacy in this matter and will have no further comment."
Police took Prescott into custody Friday after they raided his apartment and found more than 20 rifles, shotguns and pistols and 40 steel boxes containing eight different types of ammunition. Earlier in the week, Prescott had threatened mass murder at the Capitol Heights, Md., branch of Pitney Bowes after a supervisor called to fire him, according to authorities and court documents.
During one conversation with his supervisor, according to authorities and court documents, Prescott said: "I am a joker. I'm gonna load my guns and blow everybody up."
Authorities have said that they believed Prescott was making a reference to last month's theater shootings in Aurora, Colo., by mentioning a Batman character.
Prescott legally owned the guns seized by police, Alsobrooks said at the news conference. A source connected to the case said that Prescott is a licensed gun collector who at times has posted on forums at mdshooters.net.
Alsobrooks said that because Prescott is charged with a crime that carries more than a two-year sentence, he will not be able to reclaim his weapons or buy new ones while his case is pending. She said the same would apply "indefinitely" if he is convicted.
Though the charge against Prescott is relatively minor, police and prosecutors asserted Wednesday that they believe their actions averted a potentially serious danger. Alsobrooks thanked police for preventing what "could have been a very major loss of life" and said she hopes Prescott's case illustrates the need for more laws governing gun possession by those with mental health problems.
Magaw, the police chief, said investigators could only "go on the facts of this case," and that those facts led them to believe Prescott was a threat "not only to himself, but to other people in the community." Police might never know whether Prescott would have attempted to carry out an attack, Magaw said, because "we're not waiting to find out."
Washington Post staff writer Magda Jean-Louis contributed to this report.