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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 .

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 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.

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Forever Mom August 08, 2012 at 04:21 AM
crimes like this, are born from some kind of hostility or anger, as a start before any shooting , When anger becomes so severe it shows in violent verbal outbursts, that is an anger problem. If alcohol is a contibuting factor to escalating angry feelings into verbal threats, that is an alcohol or a drug problem. Usually there are friends or family who have seen such behavior taking place in some way BEFORE it gets to the point of making major threats of mass violence. When the escalation begins, that is the time to be concerned BEFORE it all breaks loose. My issue is how to determine when people have crossed the line from being defenders of rights to violating rights when there is no law against the behavior that is escalating but not over the legal limit. No charges have been filed because the technical law has been broken, but many times friends and family see trouble brewing long before it boils. We have laws which require the investigation of suspected child abuse, but not for investigating suspected anger escalation in gun owners. I don't know what the answer is, but somehow we need to get to the problem BEFORE it boils over. It seems to me that the military just discharges problems into the public sector even when the known discharge reasons exhibit some some signs of violent behavior. We train our military to be defenders using firearms and tactics, but in some cases the line shifts in the brain. There is no one set of circumstances to fit all.
Chris W August 08, 2012 at 01:54 PM
So it's the fault of the military? How does that explain the Colorado shooter, Gabby Giffords shooter. Neither was military. It will be wrong to prevent gun ownership based on a friends observations. Too much room for abuse there. That would be like arresting someone because they go to a bar a lot and they might drive intoxicated. Unfortunately, our system is not perfect and never will be.
Forever Mom August 08, 2012 at 04:50 PM
There is no one size fits all. Every case will have different roots but there has to be some similiarities that will help identify problematic cases before they become tragedies. If family or friends see warning signs, what can they do now to head off something before someone gets killed or hurt. If the reporting standardss are set too high, tragedy has to occur before anything can be done. I am the mother of an adult daughter who was killed by a jealous boyfriend 10 years ago next month. I know not all gun owners are murders, but I also know that not every gun owner is a responsible person using guns for defense or sport only. How do people bring problems in the making to light before tragedies occur if "the right to bear arms" is seen as an inalienable to everyone until they kill or maim? There is no "one size fits all" for gun owners either. I am searching for solutions to a very real problem, not a fight over guns.
Forever Mom August 08, 2012 at 04:55 PM
I am not experienced in using this kind of blog or any kind at all. I apologize if my comments are not in order or if I have posted a comment to the wrong person. I have no agenda against anyone because I think this is society's problem to deal with. i respect both sides of the gun ownership issue.
Emil Farkwarp August 08, 2012 at 05:02 PM
Darn those pesky Constitutional rights-- they even protect overcompensating blowhards!

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