Barrow Neurological Institute Puts Peter Steinmetz, AR-15-Toting Doctor, On Leave
The Barrow Neurological Institute has put its gun-toting brain scientist, Peter Steinmetz, on leave from his job.
Steinmetz made national headlines after he was arrested on Friday for mishandling a fully loaded AR-15 he'd brought with him to Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport.
Apparently, the gun-rights advocate was just trying to make a point about the legality of bringing a gun to the airport. But the incident has led to problems with his job as director of the Barrow's Neuroengineering/Human Neurophysiology Laboratory.
As New Times reported on Tuesday, Barrow wiped Steinmetz from its website. On Wednesday, the esteemed institute revealed further action in a new statement:
"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."
That's all the Barrow will say for now -- and as you can see there's no indication of when he might return to work.
Police arrested Steinmetz on suspicion of two counts of disorderly conduct with a weapon. The allegation is that the muzzle of his rifle briefly was pointed at two women at the airport, who later told police they were fearful of the gun. Steinmetz claimed he was just there to get a cup of coffee.
His Facebook and Google Plus sites indicate he's interested in gun-rights advocacy, judging by several news stories he's shared and commentary he's posted about gun issues. For instance, in one post he worries that the 2013 Navy Yard shooting in Washington D.C. was "another case of a mass shooting in an area where all the victims are legally disarmed." He also wrote about sending a letter to U.S. Senator John McCain on April 10, 2013, to urge McCain to "oppose any attempt to debate or pass" a bill that would mandate "universal background checks."
Steinmetz published a short rant about the Transportation Security Administration on November 1, the day a TSA agent was shot and killed at the Los Angeles International Airport: "Why was this guy so angry? Perhaps the american people can wake up and realize that the TSA is routinely virtually strip-searching everyone while achieving absolutely nothing in terms of improved security... Time to get rid of the expensive and wasteful TSA!"
A few days later, Steinmetz and his teenage son showed up at Sky Harbor armed with rifles. Police asked them what they were doing, and Steinmetz told cops they were there to pick up his wife -- and to protest the TSA. No charges were filed because the scientist and his boy were doing nothing illegal that time. The gun-free zones begin at the TSA security checkpoints; any law-abiding citizen can hang out the busy airport armed to the teeth, it turns out.
Local gun-law guru Alan Korwin says Steinmetz has certainly "raised the question" about the legality of guns at the airport. Yet asked whether Steinmetz's actions contributed anything meaningful to the gun-rights issue, (our actual question to Korwin was whether this helped or hurt his cause), Korwin replies, "I don't know."
While reluctant to say too much about the case, given the lack of information or stated motive by Steinmetz, Korwin believes the "bottom line is if you have a right and you can't exercise it, do you have that right?"
"He's putting his life, his fortune and his sacred honor on the line for his beliefs -- it sounds like that's what he's doing," Korwin adds.
Perhaps. But assuming Steinmetz is as smart as his curriculum vitae would suggest, he would have known this stunt could interfere with his employment at the Barrow Neurological Institute. What's his game?
No one answered the phone at Steinmetz's home on Wednesday.
If Steinmetz feels wronged by the Barrow, well, he does have some experience in suing his employers. In 2008, he attempted to sue the state of Arizona and Arizona Board of Regents after he was fired from a job as associate professor of engineering at Arizona State University.
Steinmetz filed his lawsuit against ABOR and Arizona in April of 2008, asking the court to review a decision by ASU to uphold his firing, and alleging a breach of contract.
It's somewhat unclear from Steinmetz's complaint why ASU offered a "terminal contract" in 2008, after he'd taught at the university for more than two years. But the complaint notes that a report about Steinmetz by the university criticizes him for "not acquiring more funding."
Steinmetz claims the university's "inaction caused the loss of funding."
ASU lured him from an assistant professor job in his home state of Minnesota by offering him a position as associate professor, which he started on January 1, 2005, the claim states.
As long as he had a "self-sustaining research program," ASU authorities told him, he only had to publish two articles each year and teach one class each semester.
Laboratory space the school promised him wasn't available for six months, and the university didn't give him a teaching assignment right away, he claims. The fact that he didn't start teaching immediately was held against him, even though it wasn't his fault, the complaint states.
In April of 2007, Steinmetz was told he'd be terminated at the end of that year. Steinmetz was surprised by the notice, given that his performance evaluations over the previous two years had been good, the claim says.
The Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure ruled in favor of Steinmetz in January of 2008, the complaint says, because the decision to fire Steinmetz was "fatally flawed by procedural errors." The committee recommended that Steinmetz be retained, albeit in a lower position of assistant professor.
ASU President Michael Crow rejected the committee's decision and re-affirmed the termination, the complaint says.
Steinmetz asked the court to award him damages. But after filing the lengthy and detailed complaint with the help of local lawyer Guy David Knoller, Steinmetz never had the complaint served to ABOR or the state of Arizona, resulting in its dismissal several months later.
As of Wednesday, one page of ASU's website still lists Steinmetz as co-chair of a "graduate external committee."
Asked to comment on Steinmetz's current status at ASU, spokesman Skip Derra tells New Times that, "Peter Steinmetz was hired at ASU 1/5/2005. He was an Associate Professor in Harrington Dept Bioengineering (Fulton College of Engineering). His employment ended (end of assignment) 6/1/2008."
Yet ASU also had a web page devoted specifically to Steinmetz -- until the bad publicity surrounding his name this week, that is.
Here is the link to the now-deleted ASU web page on Peter Steinmetz:
And here's the Google cached version of that page, which was changed this week:
Like Barrow, which also purged Steinmetz from its website this week, ASU isn't talking about the changes it made.
Steinmetz may have showed Valley residents this week that they and their firearms have more rights that they thought at the airport.
But he also showed how public display of an AR-15 can shoot down a career.
Got a tip? Send it to: Ray Stern.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss Phoenix New Times' biggest stories.