Suspect caught with weapons going to Calif. gay pride parade was on probation
An Indiana man arrested over the weekend in California with three assault rifles and ammunition in his car was forbidden from leaving his home state as part of probation stemming from a case in which he pointed a gun at neighbors, according to authorities and court records.
Investigators on Monday were trying to determine whether James Wesley Howell had any plans to use the weapons. The 20-year-old told police that he was in the area to attend a gay pride event in West Hollywood that draws hundreds of thousands of people.
His arrest came just a few hours after 49 people were shot and killed in a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida. Police said they had found no evidence the incidents were connected.
Howell of Jeffersonville, Indiana, was arrested in Santa Monica around 5 a.m. Sunday after residents called police to report suspicious behavior by a man who parked his white Acura sedan facing the wrong way. When officers arrived, they saw an assault rifle on Howell's passenger seat, Santa Monica police Lt. Saul Rodriguez said.
They searched the car and found two more assault rifles, high-capacity magazines and ammunition, and a five-gallon bucket with chemicals that could be used to make an explosive device, police said.
Santa Monica Police Chief Jacqueline Seabrooks initially tweeted that Howell told officers he wanted to "harm" the gay pride event, but she later corrected her statement to say that the suspect only said he was going to the parade.
Howell was accused twice last year of threatening people with a gun, according to court records. Police in Charlestown, Indiana, said the first incident involved Howell's ex-boyfriend in October and the second involved a neighbor four days later.
In the first incident, the ex-boyfriend said Howell pointed a rifle at him when he arrived at Howell's home to pick up his belongings.
"James told me that if I stepped foot in his yard, he would shoot me," the ex-boyfriend told a responding officer, according to a police report.
In the other incident a neighbor called police and said Howell had pointed a handgun at her. When officers arrived, he denied pointing a gun at anyone, saying he only cocked it and held it at his side. Police found a loaded revolver in his waistband.
Howell was charged with misdemeanor intimidation in that case and reached a plea deal in April that placed him on probation and prohibited him from having weapons and from leaving the state. A felony charge of pointing a firearm was dropped.
James Hayden, chief probation officer in Clark County, Indiana, said Monday that he would seek to revoke Howell's probation. Howell met with a probation officer on May 22 who rated him a low-level offender, Hayden said.
Officers hadn't yet conducted a surprise home visit to check that Howell was following a judge's order that he not have weapons during his one-year probation, he said.
Howell's parents didn't know he was heading to California and were trying to figure out what happened, said Louisville, Kentucky, attorney Bobby Boyd, who represented Howell in a local case.
"They're certainly shocked by learning of the arrest out there in California," Boyd said. "They're dealing with it as best they can and trying to process it. ... There's nothing to indicate any sort of acts that the news has been reporting."
Boyd said Howell's family is cooperating with federal agents and they were working to find an attorney in California.
Howell was scheduled to appear in Los Angeles court Tuesday on weapons charges.
A Facebook page that apparently belongs to Howell includes photos of the white Acura he was driving. The postings on the page are unremarkable: There's no enmity toward gays or notable political activism. One post says he's signing a petition to legalize marijuana.
The page's most recent public post, from June 3, shows a photo comparing an Adolf Hitler quote to one from Hillary Clinton. An anti-Clinton, pro-Bernie Sanders photo was posted in February.
The page says Howell worked as an auditor for a company that makes air filters.
A former roommate, Grace Logsdon, told The Associated Press that Howell possessed at least five guns and liked to frequent a shooting range. Logsdon said Howell had a bad temper and had relationships with men and women.
She called the California incident "sad, very sad" and said she hopes Howell gets some help.
In California, the LA Pride event went on as usual Sunday, albeit with increased security. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti announced the arrest at the start of the parade and struck a defiant tone.