Prosecutors Handcuffed By Law in Threat Case
The State's Attorney for Prince George's County said she'll fight for tougher laws against making threats, after determining she could only charge Neil Prescott with phone misuse.
The State’s Attorney in Prince George’s County said she will push for tougher laws against people who make threats, after concluding that she could only charge a Crofton man with misdemeanor phone misuse.
Top prosecutor Angela Alsobrooks insisted that local police “saved countless lives” when they detained Neil Prescott last week after he allegedly threatened to kill former co-workers at a Pitney Bowes facility in Capitol Heights. Police also found more than two dozen guns in his home in Anne Arundel County.
The alleged threat took place three days after a gunman opened fire in a crowded movie theater in Aurora, CO, killing 12 people and injuring 58 others.
Prescott allegedly said, "I'm the joker, and I'm going to load my guns and blow everyone up."
But prosecutors eventually determined that Prescott had broken no laws, save for section 3-804 in the Maryland Code, which prohibits the use of the telephone to “annoy, torment or harass” someone. Prescott faces a misdemeanor charge and could face up to three years in prison and a $500 fine. Prescott could also face a similar federal charge.
Alsobrooks said Wednesday there is no law in Maryland that makes it expressly illegal to threaten someone over the phone. Moreover, she said there was not enough evidence to charge Prescott with second-degree assault, and all of his firearms were legally obtained.
“I want to communicate that this is insufficient, especially in light of Mr. Prescott’s alleged threatening statements,” Alsobrooks said. “I believe that when people like Mr. Prescott threaten violence, especially in this day and age with all that we have going on, he ought to be facing felony charges, not misdemeanor charges.”
Prescott is currently being evaluated at a hospital in Annapolis. A warrant for his arrest will be served when he is released. Alsobrooks said he will not be able to recover his guns or obtain new ones while his case is being adjudicated.
Alsobrooks also said that if convicted, Prescott will be prevented from purchasing firearms indefinitely.
Laws regarding threats vary from state to state, along with penalties. In the District of Columbia, a threat to kidnap or injure another person could result in a felony conviction and a jail sentence of up to 20 years.
In Virginia, a verbal threat of harm is considered a misdemeanor, but could rise to a felony offense if the threat is communicated in writing.
In New York, making a terroristic threat is considered a felony, and the law states that it does not matter if the defendant had the intent or capability to carry out the threat.
“This situation, as far as we are concerned, highlights the need for tougher laws, and we will be lobbying for it in Annapolis,” Alsobrooks said.
Jason Cleckner, an attorney in Maryland who has worked on cases involving phone threats and harassment, said cases against people involving phone harassment are common. Usually, however, they involve people who are mentally ill or involved in domestic disputes.
Cleckner, who cautioned that he was not familiar with the details of the case involving Prescott, said the defendant's mental health could play a role in how he is prosecuted and whether he will stand trial. Cleckner said Prince George’s County judges have developed a reputation for ensuring that defendants suffering from mental illness are more likely to be treated than jailed.
He said that under current Maryland law, it does appear that charging Prescott with any additional crimes would be a reach.
“That sounds right to me,” Cleckner said. “If he hasn’t done anything, what else could they get him on?”
Cleckner acknowledged that other states may have felony statutes against threats, and said a three-year jail sentence is not a minor penalty.
“If that’s not enough to deter someone from making threats over the telephone, I don’t know what is,” he said.