ITHACA, N.Y. — An Ithaca man accused of a fatal shooting in a Wal-Mart parking lot was voluntarily committed into a psychiatric ward and surrendered his pistol about three months prior to the homicide.

Justin Barkley, 38, is charged with second-degree murder after police say he shot William Schumacher in the chest with a .30-06 caliber rifle and ran him over on Dec. 8, 2016.  Barkley is accused of fleeing the scene, firing a “sound shot” at officers who chased him to his home, and instigating an eight-hour standoff with police. He is also charged with menacing a police officer or peace officer.

Newly released police records show that he attacked a man in Lansing, had another confrontation with police at his home, was committed to a psychiatric ward, and surrendered his gun to a Tompkins County Sheriff’s deputy.

The Ithaca-Tompkins County SWAT team prepares to go to Justin Barkley’s Dryden Road home after he shot at police officers and allegedly killed a man at the Ithaca Wal-mart. Photo by Jolene Almendarez/The Ithaca Voice

The Lansing attack and Barkley’s psychiatric stay

Before Barkley allegedly killed Schumacher, he was charged with several crimes stemming from an August incident in Lansing.

Court records and police records from the Ithaca Police Department and Tompkins County Sheriff’s Office, obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, give the following narrative:

On Aug. 26, police were called to Planted Earth Hydroponics at 2255 Triphammer Road after Barkley allegedly reported that his girlfriend was being raped and assaulted in the store by the clerk. He gave the 911 dispatcher his phone number and hung up after screaming “Send help!”

An investigation revealed that Barkley allegedly accused the store clerk of touching his girlfriend. The argument escalated and Barkley punched the clerk in the face and put him in a headlock. Then Barkley called 911 and told them his girlfriend was being raped and assaulted by the clerk.

However, when New York State Police officers arrived at the scene, Barkley’s girlfriend wasn’t at the store and they suspected that his story was fake.

An investigation was launched and Barkley was not immediately taken into custody.

The next day, on Aug. 27, Barkley’s mother Linda Edwards called police asking them to do a welfare check on Barkley.

Documents state that police “were able to make contact with the complainant Linda Edwards, who stated that Barkley has severe psychological problems, which have not been an issue until his recent separation with his girlfriend.”

Another caller, whose name was redacted from court documents, also called police to tell them that Barkley drove a black Toyota Tacoma and lived near the Plantation Bar and Grill on Dryden Road.

Police stated, “He did again warn me that this subject is not a bad guy but is severely mentally ill and has said that anyone who comes to his (Barkley’s) house will be shot.”

The Ithaca Police Department was also called to be on the lookout for Barkley, but records do not show that IPD officers came into contact with Barkley that evening.

Justin Barkley’s home at 1279 Dryden Road. Photo by Jolene Almendarez/The Ithaca Voice
Justin Barkley’s home at 1279 Dryden Road. Photo by Jolene Almendarez/The Ithaca Voice

Tompkins County Sheriff’s deputies went to Barkley’s home at 1279 Dryden Road on Aug.27. Deputy Zach Starner detailed the confrontation with Barkley in police records as follows:

Prior to making contact with Barkley, Dep. Thompson, Sgt. Covert, Trooper Hines and I coordinated a plan on how to make contact with Barkley. Barkley’s driveway is next to the Plantation Bar and Grill, and his residence is surrounded by trees, in which he would be unable to detect our approach from the road. We walked up the driveway, meanwhile utilizing the terrain and forest for cover and concealment. As we walked about halfway up the driveway, we were able to observe the yard and residence by using night vision, and binoculars. I observed that Barkley was pacing around in his residence, and on the front deck of the residence.

Dep. Thompson was able to contact Barkley via phone, and convince Barkley to walk down the driveway and talk to us. Barkley was unaware of our actual location and assumed he would meet us by the road. As Barkley came down the driveway, I waited until he was approximately 15 yards away, and I shined my flashlight. At that time, we were able to confirm that Barkley was not holding any weapons. Barkley was very cooperative as he was searched and placed under arrest by Trooper Hines for pending charges.

Prior to making contact with Barkley, (Linda) Edwards stated that Barkley is highly intelligent, and educated in the world of psychiatry. Barkley has also been on the receiving end of several therapy sessions, so he knows all the right things to say, in order to prevent being taken into custody for a mental health arrest.

Barkley was charged with misdemeanors for third-degree falsely reporting an incident and third-degree menacing. He is also charged with a violation for second-degree harassment.

Barkley appeared at the Lansing Town Court with his attorney Michael Perehinec on Sept. 13 for arraignment. A court clerk said no new court dates are currently scheduled for Barkley due to the more severe charges he is facing in Ithaca. The case is currently on hold and the charges are still pending.

Surrendering his firearm: What went wrong? What are the rules?

After Barkley’s Aug. 27 arrest, he was shortly afterward committed to a psychiatric ward at Cayuga Medical Center. The exact date of his admittance is unavailable due to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, which ensures patient privacy.

But on Sept. 2, police records state that he was released from the facility.

Tompkins County Sheriff’s deputy James Rolfe was called to the hospital with directions to transport Barkley back to his Dryden Road home and confiscate Barkley’s legally owned handgun.

Rolfe reported that Barkley surrendered a Remington semiautomatic pistol, model 1911R1 — a .45 caliber gun. A plastic case, two magazines, ammunition and Barkley’s pistol permit were also seized.

Justin Barkley Provided photo

In the report, Rolfe wrote, “CMC staff had indicated to me that Barkley was also the owner of several long guns; when I questioned him on that information, Barkley stated that he had previously TOT’d (turned over to) all long guns to family members.”

Lieutenant Dan Donahue, of the Tompkins County Sheriff’s Office said in an interview, “We did not contact the family members to see if he (Barkley) surrendered the guns to them.”

Donahue said the gun surrender was voluntary, so even if Barkley kept the long guns, it would have likely been his legal right to do so (more on this below).

Donahue said police couldn’t search the home to determine if Barkley was being truthful unless they had probable cause to think he had a gun that had been used in the commission of a crime. But even then, police would have had to obtain a search warrant.

“That’s as far as we can go,” Donahue said.

Even if Barkley handed over the long guns to family members, FBI Special Agent David Schutz said that voluntary stays in psychiatric wards do not show up on background checks.

Schutz could not speak specifically about Barkley’s case, but cited the Brady Act, 18 USC 922 (g)(4), which states that people “committed to a mental institution” cannot ship, trade, receive or possess firearms or ammunition. However, it clarifies that people who are in the institutions being observed or are voluntary admissions are exempt from the law.

He said that the gun used in Schumacher’s death — a .30-06 caliber rifle — is among the most common rifles people own. It’s a non-assault rifle.

Matthew Myerson, a spokesman for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, said that non-assault weapons in New York are among the least regulated firearms one can possess.

“Non-assault weapons are not regulated in any way,” Myerson said. “You don’t need a license. You don’t need a permit. You don’t need a license from New York State to sell them.”

For someone to purchase a non-assault rifle, for instance, he said the person would have to fill out a Firearms Transaction Record, known as ATF form 4473. The form is a two-page background check that asks questions about felony indictments, orders of protections, military discharges and Unites States citizenship, among others.

“Typically, that’s an instantaneous process. They get an answer within a few minutes,” Myerson said.

He said FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System is kept up to date with information, such as felony charges and involuntary admissions to mental health facilities. But again, he said that if Barkley was in the psychiatric ward voluntarily or for observation, he would have been legally able to buy a non-assault rifle.

District Attorney Matt Van Houten did not respond to requests for comment about whether Barkley legally owned the gun used in the homicide.

Donahue said, however, that because the weapons were voluntarily surrendered as opposed to being seized due to a court order, it indicates that Barkley likely legally owned the gun he used.

Is Barkley suffering from mental health issues?

During Barkley’s arraignment for the homicide on Dec. 19, he attempted to plead guilty to the charges against him. But when he was set to allocute, he instead told the court that he believed he shot Donald Trump, who was president-elect at the time. Barkley said he’d never met Schumacher, statement local police agencies have confirmed.

Barkley said in court, “I shot and killed Donald Trump purposely, intentionally and very proudly.”

When asked if any evidence could be used to prove otherwise to him, he said, “I would hope not.”

Related: Man accused of Ithaca homicide: ‘I shot and killed Donald Trump purposely, intentionally and very proudly’

Meanwhile, Schumacher’s family sat about 25 feet away from Barkley shaking in anger and in tears.

In a brief written statement, Schumacher’s daughter-in-law Amanda Schumacher said:

Blake (William Schumacher’s son) and I are both hunters and firm believers in people’s Second Amendment rights. We don’t feel that the police failed or that the laws failed, laws in N.Y. are in place. It seems that those who knew his mental state chose not to press the issue. Had his mother been truly concerned for his well-being and his mental state of mind, this court proceeding (a mental health screening) should have been had then… and perhaps Bill would still be with us. But Blake and I stand by ‘Guns don’t kill people. People kill people,’ and, clearly, people knew that Justin was a danger to society and their choices, alongside his, led to this tragedy.

Two psychiatric examiners later found Barkley not competent to stand trial, and he was committed to a psychiatric evaluation until medical professionals are able to decide whether he is able to understand the court proceedings.

Justin Barkley attends a court hearing on Dec. 19, where he said he believed he shot Donald Trump. Photo by Jolene Almendarez/The Ithaca Voice

District Attorney Matt Van Houten said there is no hard and fast rule about how long Barkley will be examined for. But Van Houten said he expects the process to take a few months. Afterward, mental health professionals could decide if he’s competent for trial or if he will continue to be held, possibly indefinitely.

The court’s decision, Van Houten said, was a blow to Schumacher’s family.

“They’re very upset about this. They believe that he is competent. They believe that he is malingering. They’re frustrated with lack of closure. But we’re assuring them that they will have closure at some point and the process will run its course,” Van Houten said. “Based upon what’s on the record, our position is that he is capable of assisting in his own defense, that he simply doesn’t want to.”

Related: Man accused of Ithaca homicide found not competent to stand trial — for now

Part of the controversy stirring around the court’s decision is Barkley’s previous employment in mental health. He was a licensed master social worker from September 2008 until May 2016 at St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center in Massena, a town of just more than 10,000 people in St. Lawrence County, located almost four hours away from Ithaca.

He began working at The Office of Children and Family Services’ Finger Lakes Residential Center on May 4 and resigned on Aug. 8, Monica Mahaffey, New York State Office of Children & Family Services assistant commissioner for communications, confirmed in an email.

She said she could not comment on his disciplinary record or why he resigned.

When asked if Barkley’s previous experience with mental health treatment was influencing the defendant’s behavior, Van Houten said anything is possible, but it will be up to professionals to make a decision about whether that is playing a role in Barkley’s actions.

Featured photo: Police investigate the scene of a deadly shooting at the Ithaca Walmart on Dec. 8.  Kelsey O’Connor/The Ithaca Voice. 

Jolene Almendarez

Jolene Almendarez is Managing Editor at The Ithaca Voice. She can be reached at jalmendarez@ithacavoice.com; you can learn more about her at the links in the top right of this box.