Neuroscientist won't face charges for taking gun into airport

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Peter Steinmetz (Source: Maricopa County Sheriff's Office) Peter Steinmetz (Source: Maricopa County Sheriff's Office)
Surveillance video shows officers arresting Steinmetz at Sky Harbor. (Source: Phoenix Police Department) Surveillance video shows officers arresting Steinmetz at Sky Harbor. (Source: Phoenix Police Department)
Photo of Steinmetz on his bio page at Barrow Institute. (Source: Barrow Institute) Photo of Steinmetz on his bio page at Barrow Institute. (Source: Barrow Institute)

A medical researcher at a renowned neurological hospital accused of pointing a loaded AR-15 assault rifle toward a woman and her teenage daughter inside Phoenix's main airport won't face charges.

Records show the Maricopa County Attorney's Office has agreed not to pursue criminal charges against 54-year-old Peter Nathan Steinmetz.

Steinmetz was taken into custody in Terminal 4 shortly after 10:30 a.m. on July 25 and booked into the Maricopa County Jail.

Steinmetz was the director of the neuroengineering program at Barrow Neurological Institute.

St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center, which houses Barrow Neurological Institute, issued the following statement after his arrest:

"Following his arrest at Sky Harbor Airport and after careful analysis and review, Dr. Peter Steinmetz has been placed on administrative leave as a part-time scientist at St. Joseph's Barrow Neurological Institute. St. Joseph's and Barrow will cooperate with the authorities regarding his arrest and we will continue to take very seriously the charges that have been filed against him. Dr. Steinmetz is a part-time basic scientist who works in a research laboratory. He has never treated patients at Barrow or St. Joseph's. We are proud to be leader in this community and to be respected by the medical profession around the world. The trust that thousands of patients and their families put in us every day is paramount. We are committed to maintaining that trust and the loyalty of our patients, our doctors and our staff."

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 had faced two counts of disorderly conduct with a weapon.

Copyright 2014 CBS 5 (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.