Crime & Justice

Man heading to LA Pride posed 'significant danger,' prosecutors say

James Wesley Howell, 20, of Indiana, appears in Superior Court in Los Angeles Tuesday, June 14, 2016. Howell faces felony weapons charges after authorities say they found  assault rifles and explosive chemicals in his car in Santa Monica on June 12, before West Hollywood's LA Pride Parade and Festival.
James Wesley Howell, 20, of Indiana, appears in Superior Court in Los Angeles Tuesday, June 14, 2016. Howell faces felony weapons charges after authorities say they found assault rifles and explosive chemicals in his car in Santa Monica on June 12, before West Hollywood's LA Pride Parade and Festival.
Nick Ut/AP

The Indiana man found with a carload of weapons before a gay pride event in Los Angeles has pleaded not guilty and is being held in lieu of $2 million bail after prosecutors said he posed a “significant danger to the community.”

Updates

Updated 3:09 p.m.: Prosecutors say Howell posed 'significant danger' to community

When he was arrested Sunday, James Wesley Howell possessed an explosive device along with three rifles, a black hood, handcuffs, a security guard badge, a Taser and additional ammunition, according to new details released by the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office.

“Based on the combination of materials it is my opinion that the defendant poses a significant danger to the community that is not reflected in the scheduled bail amount,” Santa Monica Police Detective Derek Leone wrote in a statement of fact attached to the prosecution’s request.

The Associated Press has reported Howell had recently left a job as a security guard, which could explain the badge and possibly some of the other items. Howell, 20, told officers he was in town for LA Pride, the gay pride festival and parade in West Hollywood.

On Tuesday, he was charged with three felony weapons violations. His lawyer entered not guilty pleas on his behalf to charges of possessing an assault weapon, possessing a destructive device on a public street, and importing or manufacturing a large magazine, according to the Associated Press.

Officials originally said he had meant to harm people at the parade, but later said that had been in error. Court records made no mention of Howell's intentions.

But in his written statement, Leone explained that Howell possessed a 25-pound container that was more than half full of a Shoc-Shot, an exploding target used by gun enthusiasts containing two ingredients that remain inert until mixed.

Investigators found that the Shoc-Shot had been mixed and could have been detonated by a shot from one of the rifles in Howell’s possession, Leone wrote. The company notes on its Facebook page that the explosive “cannot be set off by dropping, igniting with a match or hitting with a hammer.”

Mixing the two ingredients is legally defined as the manufacturing of explosives, according to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Federal law indicates that anyone who has been convicted of a crime punishable by imprisonment for more than one year or is a fugitive from justice may not be in possession of explosive materials, according to the ATF.

In addition to the explosives, court records show Howell possessed a loaded AM–15 rifle, a gun made by Anderson Manufacturing that is similar to the AR–15 but considered an illegal Category 3 assault weapon under California law because it was loaded with a 30-round detachable magazine that had been taped back to back with another, inverted magazine.

California law also prohibits high-capacity magazines that hold more than 10 rounds.

Two other rifles were found in Howell’s car. One was a .30–06 caliber bolt-action rifle, also loaded. The other was a .22 caliber Ruger semi-automatic rifle. The AM-15 and the .30-06 rifles both had rounds loaded into the chamber.

Also in the car, according to Leone, was a buck knife and a 5-gallon container of gasoline.

Leone said Howell was a flight risk, since he did not appear to be a California resident and had no known family or other ties to the state.

Investigators view items removed from a car, left, after a heavily armed man was arrested in Santa Monica, Calif., early Sunday, June 12, 2016. The man reportedly told police he was in the area for West Hollywood's huge gay pride parade. Authorities did not know of any connection between the gay nightclub shooting in Orlando, Fla., early Sunday and the Santa Monica arrest.
Investigators view items removed from a car, left, after a heavily armed man was arrested in Santa Monica, Calif., early Sunday, June 12, 2016. The man reportedly told police he was in the area for West Hollywood's huge gay pride parade. Authorities did not know of any connection between the gay nightclub shooting in Orlando, Fla., early Sunday and the Santa Monica arrest.
Reed Saxon/AP

He also noted, as has been reported previously, that Howell had been convicted in Indiana in March of intimidation with a deadly weapon and that he had been ordered to surrender his weapons and prohibited from possessing firearms as a condition of his probation.

Leone said Howell said he left Indiana over concerns of existing or pending criminal charges.

Meanwhile, the Clark County, Indiana, Sheriff’s Office said Tuesday that Howell was also a suspect in an alleged sexual assault on May 31, according to the Associated Press.

A department spokesman declined to release further details, but AP reported the following:

The incident occurred less than two weeks before Howell was arrested Sunday in Santa Monica, California, when police said they found three assault rifles and explosive chemicals in a car apparently driven from Indiana.

Indianapolis FBI spokeswoman Wendy Osborne says agents searched Howell’s home Monday night.

A message seeking comment was left for Howell family attorney Bobby Boyd.

Updated 12:52 p.m.: Man to be charged with illegally possessing guns, explosives before LA Pride event 

An Indiana man is due to be arraigned Tuesday afternoon for felony weapons violations after authorities said he was found with three assault rifles and explosive chemicals in his car ahead of West Hollywood's LA Pride Parade and Festival on Sunday.

James Wesley Howell, 20, is scheduled to be arraigned at the Los Angeles County Superior Court's Airport Branch, the District Attorney's Office said in a news release. Prosecutors will be asking a judge for Howell's bail to be set at $2 million.

The District Attorney's Office said it plans to charge Howell with one felony count each of unlawful possession of an assault weapon, possession of a destructive device on a public street, manufacturing or importing large magazine and carrying a loaded firearm in a vehicle.

RELATED: FAQ: The California assault weapons ban

Howell was arrested about 5 a.m. Sunday in the 1700 block of 11th Street, near Olympic Boulevard, by Santa Monica police officers, the District Attorney's office said. Howell was found near his car, which he apparently drove from Indiana, when officers responded to a report of a man knocking on a resident's door and window, the D.A. said.

If convicted, Howell faces up to nine years, eight months in local custody.

The investigation is ongoing.

Federal investigators served a search warrant on Howell's home in Clark County, Indiana, on Monday night, according to the FBI's Los Angeles Field Office, which is conducting a joint investigation with Santa Monica police.

So far no federal charges have been filed, and that investigation continues.

— AP with KPCC staff

7:57 a.m.: Man arrested in LA with guns, chemicals to appear in court

A man arrested in Southern California with three assault rifles who told police he was headed to a gay pride event was  tentatively scheduled to appear in court Tuesday, but it wasn't yet clear what charges he'll face, if any.

This June 12, 2016 law enforcement booking photo provided by the Santa Monica, Calif., Police Department shows James Wesley Howell, 20, of Indiana. Police say Howell was the heavily armed man arrested in Santa Monica on his way to a Southern California gay pride parade, who told them he wanted to do harm to the event. (Santa Monica Police Department via AP)
This June 12, 2016 law enforcement booking photo provided by the Santa Monica, Calif., Police Department shows James Wesley Howell, 20, of Indiana. Police say Howell was the heavily armed man arrested in Santa Monica on his way to a Southern California gay pride parade, who told them he wanted to do harm to the event. (Santa Monica Police Department via AP)
/AP

James Wesley Howell was arrested early Sunday in Santa Monica with the weapons and explosive chemicals in a car he apparently drove from Indiana. He told police he was headed to a gay pride event in West Hollywood that attracts hundreds of thousands of people.

It's unclear whether Howell, 20, intended any violence at the LA Pride event, but the timing of the arrest — hours after the massacre at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida — put police and event organizers on heightened alert.

Howell had earlier been ordered by a judge in his home state of Indiana to give up all his guns.

But authorities there said Monday that they didn't make any surprise checks to confirm he was following the probation requirement.

An Indiana probation officer met with Howell of Charlestown, Indiana, three weeks ago, rated him a low-level offender, and had yet to schedule the in-home visit, said James Hayden, chief probation officer in Clark County.

Howell didn't have permission to leave Indiana after pleading guilty to a misdemeanor intimidation charge. Authorities there are seeking to have him returned as a probation violator.

Court records in Indiana and friends depict Howell as a gun enthusiast with a quick temper.

Twice within four days last October he was accused of pulling a gun and making threats. The first incident involved Howell's then-boyfriend and the second a neighbor, identified in police records as Jeremy Hebert.

Howell was charged with intimidation in the case involving Hebert, a conviction that led to his yearlong probation and weapons prohibition.

Hebert remembered Howell being "hot-headed" but said he had no interest in pursuing an intimidation charge against him.

"I wasn't going to ruin his life for it," Hebert said, adding that he was fine as long as Howell didn't return to the neighborhood.

Prosecutors apparently pursued the case without Hebert.

Howell's ex-boyfriend, Richard Hambrick, described Howell as "explosive."

"He's got a lot of anger problems," Hambrick said.

He added that he doesn't know why Howell was in California.

"As far as I know he had no connections there with any family or friends," Hambrick said.

Charlestown police Detective Capt. Chuck Ledbetter said the handgun Howell used in the intimidation case was the only one the department seized from him. A rifle that ex-boyfriend Hambrick said Howell pointed at him a day earlier wasn't seized because no arrest was made at the time, Ledbetter said.

A lawyer who represented Howell in Kentucky said that he is looking for a lawyer in California.

Attorney Bobby Boyd told WDRB-TV that Howell's father is cooperating with the FBI and was shocked by his son's arrest.

— Associated Press reporters Amanda Lee Myers and Dylan Lovan. AP writers Tom Davies contributed from Indianapolis, Claire Galofaro contributed from Jeffersonville, Indiana, and Christopher Weber contributed from Los Angeles.

This story has been updated.