COLLEGE PARK, Ga. (AP) — A man accused of killing a Georgia megachurch volunteer leading a prayer service in a chapel was charged more than a decade ago with a shooting at a mosque in Maryland, police documents show.
Floyd Palmer was part of a security detail at a Baltimore mosque in June 2001 when he shot another man working with him, wounding him in the back, according to a police report obtained by The Associated Press on Thursday. Palmer tried to fire again, but the gun jammed. When other people ran over to him, he turned the gun on them, but it wouldn’t fire, according to the documents.
During a pretrial psychological evaluation, Palmer said the shooting occurred in part because he believed that NFL player Ray Lewis and members of his own family were out to get him.
Palmer was committed to a psychiatric hospital in 2004 after pleading not criminally responsible to the mosque shooting. Despite objections from prosecutors, a judge released him in 2006 on the condition that he abide by a number of restrictions for five years.
It’s not clear when Palmer made his way south. He had been working at the Rev. Creflo Dollar’s World Changers Church International just south of Atlanta, but quit in August for “personal reasons,” Fulton County Police Cpl. Kay Lester said.
On Wednesday, authorities said Palmer, 51, walked into a chapel and opened fire, killing Greg McDowell, 39, who was leading a morning prayer service for a group of about 25 people. McDowell is identified as a warehouse manager for the church on a LinkedIn web page.
A witness told police he heard about five gunshots, but that only McDowell was hit, according to a police report. The witness said he ducked down, then looked up and made eye contact with Palmer before the suspect began “walking calmly towards the exit of the chapel.” The witness said he ran outside to get help and saw Palmer leaving the parking lot in a black vehicle, the report says. Officers recovered about a dozen shell casings for a .380-caliber handgun, but they have not located the weapon.
Police arrested Palmer several hours later when they spotted his Subaru station wagon at a mall in the upscale Buckhead community, north of downtown Atlanta.
Authorities were trying to figure out if Palmer and McDowell knew each other.
Visibly distraught members of McDowell’s family showed up at the Fulton County jail for Palmer’s first court hearing Thursday, but he waived his appearance. Later in the day, however, he changed his mind. Another hearing was scheduled for Friday.
Palmer faces murder and firearms charges. It was not immediately clear if Palmer has an attorney. The Fulton County public defender’s office didn’t return a phone message Thursday.
In Baltimore, officials were taking a closer look at the 2001 shooting. According to the pretrial psychological evaluation, Palmer said the shooting occurred because one of his cousins, Richard Lollar, was killed in Atlanta shortly after the 2000 Super Bowl.
Lewis, a Baltimore Ravens linebacker, was charged in the stabbing death of Lollar and another man, but he was exonerated. He pleaded guilty to misdemeanor obstruction of justice. Two other defendants were acquitted in the case.
Palmer said he shot Reuben Jerry Ash outside the mosque because he believed Ash was being paid by Lewis to “get rid of him,” according to the psychological evaluation. The shooting left Ash paralyzed.
A judge released Palmer from the psychiatric hospital on the condition he live with his mother, not own or possess a weapon and continue treatment for the next five years. The judge noted Palmer’s lack of a history of mental illness, his two-decade employment with the Social Security Administration and his full remission from mental illness.
The state attorney general’s office objected, saying Palmer did not understand that he remained mentally ill. That “indicates a high likelihood that he will not be compliant,” their response stated, adding there “was no real evidence Mr. Palmer would not be a danger to himself or others if released with or without conditions.”
In Atlanta, the violence upset members and neighbors of the church, which is one of the largest in the United States, claiming 30,000 members at the main campus and a ministry of satellite churches across the country. It is led by Dollar, who was not there at the time of the shooting.
Along with Bishop Eddie Long, Dollar is one of the most prominent African-American preachers based around Atlanta who have built successful ministries on the prosperity gospel, which teaches that God wants to bless the faithful with earthly riches.
Dollar didn’t respond to requests for comment from The AP, but he addressed the matter while preaching Wednesday evening at a Bible study in the campus’s larger World Dome sanctuary.
He described McDowell as “one of our very faithful, loving, kind servant-volunteers,” and someone who used to open the door for his mother at services. He recalled presiding over his marriage.
“This Wednesday, an employee of the church, a friend of the ministry, was doing corporate prayer and while he was praying he was shot several times and fell dead…” Dollar said, as some in the crowd wiped away tears.
“Many people say, `What was that?”‘ Dollar said. “Because we work so hard to try to be prepared for the evil that comes from the outside in, and we work so hard to be prepared for the challenges that come from the outside in. But sometimes you have to be careful because you can be clipped by something that’s on the inside, from behind. And that’s what happened today”
Dollar said “a woman lost a husband, and two little boys lost their father.” But Dollar also said he viewed the shooting as a double tragedy.
“Where some would say one life was lost, for me as a spiritual father, two lives were lost,” he said. “It was a life of two precious brothers that was messed up.”
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)