Suspect in city shooting is former mental patient

Parents had warned authorities of son's threats of violence

February 04, 1999|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

The man charged with shooting a lawyer on a crowded downtown Baltimore street Tuesday morning twice checked himself out of a psychiatric hospital and then legally bought the handgun used in the shooting, police and relatives said yesterday.

Richard Kenneth Geier won his release from Franklin Square Hospital Center both times through the courts despite pleas from his parents, who said they warned judges and doctors of their son's threats that included a list of family members "he wanted to get."

"It's extremely frustrating," the suspect's father, William Geier, said yesterday. "We tried with two emergency petitions to access the system. We tried to get counseling and advice. Most of the time we were shut down and shut out."

The shooting of Jeffrey Martin Yeatman, 29, in the heart of Baltimore's business district has raised fears of safety and sparked questions of how to deal with disturbed individuals who don't want to be helped.

The elder Geier said his son, a Parkville High School graduate, could not be forceably institutionalized because he was over 21, had never been arrested or convicted of a crime, and promised to take his medication.

"The shooting was his way of crying for help," his father said. "In the process, some young man had to get hurt. I feel so bad for him."

Police said that despite hours of questioning, they learned little from Geier, 23, a construction worker who lived alone in a third-floor rowhouse apartment in East Baltimore.

Lt. Ben Lieu of the homicide unit said detectives believe the victim was chosen "for no apparent reason. He was just in the wrong place at the wrong time." As for a motive, Lieu said: "We may never find out. He just wanted to shoot somebody."

Yeatman was hit by one of six shots fired in the 100 block of S. Charles St. He was in serious but stable condition yesterday at Maryland Shock Trauma Center, where he is expected to remain for five to seven days.

Dr. David Gens said the bullet, fired from several feet away, entered Yeatman's back and went through the left chest, missing the heart by three inches. The lawyer had a tube in his chest to keep his collapsed lung inflated.

Yeatman, a product liability lawyer for Piper & Marbury, was walking to work near the Inner Harbor when a man, his gun registration papers in his pocket, opened fire and chased the lawyer for nearly a block before he dropped a .38-caliber revolver at Charles and Lombard streets.

"We feel very lucky today," said Yeatman's father, Martin, at a hospital news conference yesterday. "We feel God was looking out for him and must have big plans for him."

A court commissioner ordered Geier held without bail yesterday on several charges, including attempted murder, assault and reckless endangerment. A bail review hearing is scheduled today in District Court.

His parents, William and Pat Geier, said they tried for years to help their son, who according to court records has been diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic.

They first tried to commit Richard Geier in August 1997. They filed court papers saying their son was hearing voices, suffered delusions, used abusive language and made violent threats.

The Geiers spelled out their fears in court papers with a list: "quit job, trashed apartment, talks to himself, thinks everybody is against him, thinks government is spying, weird drawings that include devil, Christ and Satan. Threatened to kill father. Carries steak knife for protection. Machete knife left behind in apartment."

William Geier said his son took a bus to Phoenix, Ariz., in September and returned penniless months later. Mr. Geier again had his son committed at Franklin Square.

"Despite all the previous problems, they felt they couldn't do anything for him," he said. "They said they weren't going to treat him. He was refusing treatment and they couldn't force treatment."

Mr. Geier said his son went to Florida after leaving the psychiatric ward at Franklin Square in October 1997, and asked for a job at a Fort Lauderdale hospital, but was committed briefly when he threatened to kill himself. He returned to Baltimore, but his parents had no contact with him for more than a year.

Richard C. Geier, the suspect's uncle, said his nephew "had a list of people he wanted to get. My brother was on that list. I can't believe they let him out on the street. I can't believe he got a gun permit."

The Baltimore County judge who handled the commitment cases could not be reached for comment, and a spokeswoman at Franklin Square declined to comment, citing confidentiality laws.

"We can't even confirm or deny he was ever a patient," said Franklin Square spokeswoman Dawn Lyons.

Law enforcement officials said the gun, a .38-caliber Rossi, was purchased legally in July 1998 for $200 at Baltimore Gunsmith in Fells Point. Geier had no criminal record, and a federal law banning handgun sales to mentally disturbed individuals did not take effect until December.

"Simple mental illness does not disqualify you from buying a handgun," said Special Agent Michael Campbell, a spokesman for the Baltimore office of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. "The gun was purchased legally."

A police search of the suspect's third-floor apartment in the 2600 block of E. Preston St. turned up a gun box and ammunition.

Sun staff writer Dail Willis and contributing writer Young Chang contributed to this article.

Pub Date: 2/04/99

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