PHOENIX (CBS5) - A top neuroscientist pointed an AR-15 assault rifle in the direction of a mother and her teenage daughter inside one of the busiest terminals at Sky Harbor International Airport on Friday, police said.
Peter Nathan Steinmetz, 54, was taken into custody in Terminal 4 shortly after 10:30 a.m. and booked into the Maricopa County Jail.
Steinmetz is director of the neuroengineering program at Barrow Neurological Institute, according to his biography posted on its website Monday.
A top neuroscientist pointed an AR-15 assault rifle in the direction of a mother and her teenage daughter inside one of the busiest terminals at Sky Harbor International Airport on Friday, police said.
St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center - which houses the Barrow Neurological Institute - issued the following statement:
"We can confirm that Peter Steinmetz is employed as a part-time researcher with St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center and does not treat patients. We are aware of the situation and are taking it very seriously. At present this issue is being handled by Human Resources and our policy is not to comment on HR matters."
However, Monday they issued a slightly different statement:
"We can confirm that Peter Steinmetz is employed as a researcher with St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center. We are aware of the situation and are taking it very seriously. At present this issue is being handled by Human Resources and our policy is not to comment on HR matters."
CBS 5 is waiting to hear back from St. Joseph's about the discrepancy with his employment status and why his bio page has been removed from the BNI website.
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According to a court document, Steinmetz was seen on Level 3 ordering coffee at a Starbucks while carrying in plain view a rifle over his right shoulder.
"It certainly was concerning to other passengers at the airport, not knowing why this individual was walking around with an assault rifle slung over his arm," said Phoenix Police Sgt. Steve Martos.
But he pointed out guns are not restricted in that area of the airport.
Steinmetz then walked to the east end of the Level 3 terminal, where he stopped in front of the B gates and then proceeded to an area where people wait for passengers, court paperwork stated.
According to a probable cause statement, Steinmetz "proceeded to remove the Stag Arm AR-15 from his right shoulder, thus causing the muzzle to face two victims sitting to the right."
The pair, a mother and her 17-year-old daughter, told officers "they felt in fear of their safety when the rifle was pointed in their direction."
When officers confronted Steinmetz, the man said he had no other business at Sky Harbor than to stop by and buy a cup of coffee.
A Gilbert aunt and her niece, who were waiting to pick up the girl's mother by the entrance to the B gates Monday, were disturbed to hear about what happened just a few days prior.
"I know he probably wasn't doing it intentionally (pointing the gun at the mother and daughter)," said Sophea. "It's probably traumatizing to those who were just here."
Martos said this isn't the first time Steinmetz has brought a weapon to the airport.
He said officers questioned him early last November when Steinmetz picked his wife up from Sky Harbor armed with an assault rifle.
This happened just a few days after a TSA agent was shot to death by a gunman at Los Angeles International Airport.
Martos said Steinmetz told officers he was exercising his right to bear arms.
Sophea's aunt said the airport is no place to make a political statement, especially when weapons are involved.
"I know that he does have the right to do that," said Julie Sanchez. "But I just feel he has other ways, other options, to prove his point."
Steinmetz faces two counts of disorderly conduct with a weapon and is out of jail on $5,000 bond.
Steinmetz is due back in court Thursday at 8:30 a.m., and he has been ordered to surrender his weapons.