Man found with weapons before L.A. pride parade has history of gun charges, records show

An Indiana man who told Santa Monica police he was on his way to the L.A. Pride parade in West Hollywood when he was found with with assault rifles and explosives-making materials in his car is scheduled to make an initial court appearance Tuesday, jail records show.

The arrest of James Wesley Howell, 20, raised alarms hours after a gunman killed 50 people at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla., in  the worst mass shooting in U.S. history.

Howell was taken into custody after officers found him seated in a car in Santa Monica with three assault rifles, high-capacity magazines, ammunition and a 5-gallon bucket containing chemicals that can be used to make an improvised-explosive device Sunday. Jail records show he is being held on $500,000 bail and is scheduled to be in court Tuesday.

Investigators are still trying to figure out Howell’s intentions, but don’t believe there is a connection between the incident and the Orlando massacre.

Santa Monica Police Chief Jacqueline Seabrooks initially said on Twitter that during the arrest, the suspect told one of her officers “of wanting to harm Gay Pride event.”

But Lt. Saul Rodriguez, a Santa Monica police spokesman, said later that the tweet was a misstatement and that Seabrooks had been given incorrect information. Howell told investigators that he was going to the Pride festival but did not make additional statements about his intentions, Rodriguez said.

Howell was booked on charges that include possession of a firearm, possession of an improvised-explosive device and possession of high-capacity magazines, Rodriguez said.

At a news conference Sunday afternoon, police stressed that they were still trying to determine what Howell planned to do with the weapons.

Authorities considered canceling the annual L.A. Pride parade but decided to proceed Sunday morning under tightened security, including undercover officers in the crowd, according to sources who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to comment publicly.

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Santa Monica police received a call about 5 a.m. Sunday of someone knocking on a resident’s door and window near Olympic Boulevard and 11th Street.

Patrol officers arrived to find Howell seated in a white Acura with Indiana plates, with a rifle visible on the seat, Rodriguez said.

A law enforcement source who spoke on condition of anonymity said the contents of the bucket found in the car included Tannerite, an ingredient that could be used to create explosives.

The source, who was not authorized to speak publicly about the ongoing investigation, said authorities also found camouflage clothing in the car.

Los Angeles County sheriff’s officials said the suspect told police he was going to the Pride parade to look for a friend. Authorities were looking for that individual.

Howell was charged in October 2015 with intimidation with a deadly weapon and pointing a loaded firearm at another person, according to Indiana court and police records.

Howell allegedly pointed a gun at two people, according to reports released by the Charlestown Police Department.

In the first case, on Oct. 14, an ex-boyfriend alleged that Howell had pointed an AR-style rifle at him, though Howell denied that and said he had kept the gun up on his shoulder. Howell was arrested the next day after neighbors called police to report that Howell had pointed a gun at one of them.

On April 19, Howell pleaded guilty to misdemeanor intimidation and prosecutors dropped the pointing a firearm charge. Court records show he was sentenced to a year in state prison and placed on probation. Under the deal, he agreed to forfeit all weapons while he was on probation.

Reached by phone Sunday, Howell’s ex-boyfriend Richard Hambrick said Howell had at least four firearms.

“He likes his guns,” Hambrick said.

Howell’s friend and fellow car club member Joseph Greeson, 18, said Howell was bisexual and didn’t harbor any ill will towards gays or lesbians.

Greeson said Howell’s family in Jeffersonville hadn’t seen him for days and that his parents had called Greeson’s parents looking for him.

Laura Eimiller, an FBI spokeswoman, said the bureau is conducting a joint investigation with Santa Monica police.

Two law enforcement sources said Howell could face federal charges in connection with the guns and potential explosive materials recovered from the vehicle.

They cautioned that Howell had said little to investigators while in custody other than that he planned to attend the gay pride parade.

The sources spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to comment publicly. 

Howell, according to a law enforcement source, has an outstanding warrant from Kentucky.

Kentucky Court records show he has a pending criminal case in the county that includes Louisville and a court appearance next month.

A Facebook page under Howell’s name said he attended high school in Louisville, Ky., and lives in Jeffersonville, Ind., where he works for an air filtration company. A car enthusiast, Howell posted numerous photographs of white Acura cars similar to the one found in Santa Monica, with a couple of videos taken from inside cars. A 10-second video on the page includes gunfire, with shots striking grass.

Some posts are political, including one in which Hillary Clinton is compared to Adolf Hitler. Another repeats conspiracy theories that the government was behind notorious terrorist attacks, including Sept. 11, 2001. In that post is a video claiming that the 2015 terror attack on the Paris offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo was a hoax and attributable to the “New World Order.” 

As police searched the white Acura on Sunday, items including a green blanket and red gasoline canister could be seen piled on the sidewalk next to the car.

Also visible were a security-style badge, two gun magazines held together with rubber bands, a rifle scope, boxes of ammunition and court papers from the Louisville area.

The car’s Indiana license plate had the logo of the National Rifle Assn., a specialty plate offered in that state.

The events in Orlando and Santa Monica cast a shadow over the L.A. Pride celebration, though thousands still attended.

City officials and civic leaders began the parade with a moment of silence and speeches calling for the occasion to serve as a rallying cry and a refutation to the violence.

Alonso Pina, 25, said news of the Orlando shooting and the Santa Monica arrest caused him to look over his shoulder and keep closer eye on the parade crowd, but he never considered staying home.

“It's definitely not a happy pride, it's a sad pride,” he said. “If something happens, it happened when I was showing my pride.”

Rebecca Carr, 23, said she felt it was important to attend, even though her mother heard about the Santa Monica arrest and told her not to to go.

"I said, 'We need each other. That can't stop me,'" said Carr, who is bisexual. "We need to know we're all here for each other."

Times staff writers Tony Barboza, Hailey Branson-Potts, Kate Mather and Joel Rubin contributed to this report.

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UPDATES:

5:50 a.m.: This article has been updated with information about James Howell’s court appearance.

This article was originally published at 4:11 a.m.

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