Man bound for L.A. Pride with guns, ammo and explosive chemicals is formally charged
An Indiana man who police said was bound for the L.A. Pride festival in a car loaded with weapons, ammunition and explosive chemicals was formally charged Tuesday and ordered held on $2-million bail.
The Los Angeles County district attorney’s office filed three felony charges against James Wesley Howell, 20, as well as one misdemeanor charge, according to Deputy Dist. Atty. Sean Carney.
The felony charges were possession of explosives on a highway, possession of an assault weapon and possession of high-capacity magazines. The misdemeanor charge was possession of a firearm in a car.
Howell appeared at the Airport Courthouse in Los Angeles on Tuesday and entered a plea of not guilty. The defendant appeared pale and stood in a side room where he observed the court proceedings through a large window. He spoke only when Superior Court Judge Keith Schwartz asked him if he agreed to delay his preliminary hearing so his lawyer could familiarize himself with the case. Howell said yes.
Howell faces up to nine years and four months in prison if convicted on all charges.
Although Howell’s arrest early Sunday triggered a local panic when Santa Monica Police Chief Jacqueline Seabrooks mistakenly tweeted that Howell intended to “harm” the L.A. Pride festival in nearby West Hollywood, authorities later said they did not know his intentions.
They also ruled out the possibility that he was connected to the slaying of 49 club-goers at a gay nightspot in Florida just hours earlier.
A bail deviation filing obtained by The Times shows that along with the weapons and explosive chemicals in the car, Howell had a black hood, a Taser, handcuffs, a Buck knife, a security badge and additional ammunition for the guns. There was also a filled five-gallon container of gasoline.
Police said Howell has no known ties to California and that he admitted to officers that he fled Indiana “due to his concerns over existing or pending criminal charges by the state.”
According to court documents, Howell was in possession of a 25-pound container of “Shoc-shot,” a commercially sold two-component explosive that detonates when hit by a high-velocity rifle round. Santa Monica police said that the container was three-fifths full and that the explosive chemicals had already been combined.
“The amount of explosives in the container would have posed a grave danger to both persons and property had the explosives been detonated, either intentionally or accidentally,” wrote Santa Monica Police Detective Derek Leone.
The assault rifle Howell had in his white Acura was described as an Anderson Manufacturing AM-15 .223 caliber rifle, with two 30-round magazines taped together for quick reloading. “This rifle is an AR-style assault weapon,” Leone wrote.
The two other rifles in Howell’s car were a loaded .30-06 caliber bolt-action rifle and a .22 caliber Ruger semiautomatic rifle.
A restraining order against Howell in Indiana prohibits him from possessing firearms, the report states.
On Monday evening, the FBI and police executed a search warrant at Howell’s Indiana residence, according to FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller.
Authorities in Kentucky have also revoked Howell’s bail in a pending felony case in which he is accused of evading police.
On Tuesday, prosecutors asked that a judge increase his bail amount from $500,000 to $2 million on the grounds that he posed a “significant danger to the community” and was a flight risk.
The judge agreed, saying, “these aren’t normal things for people to carry in a car.” Howell, who was represented by Deputy Public Defender Barbara Jones, was ordered to return to court on June 29.
Howell’s past includes instances of armed intimidation and conflicts with law enforcement.
“The boy was young and dumb and had a mouth on him,” said Jeremy Hebert, a former Indiana neighbor who was once threatened at gunpoint by Howell, court documents show.
Howell was arrested just before 5 a.m. Sunday in the 1700 block of 11th Street in Santa Monica. A resident there had called police to say that a prowler had knocked on the front door and window.
Officers had arrived to find Howell sitting in his white Acura. Upon searching the vehicle officers discovered three assault rifles, high-capacity magazines, ammunition and a bucket containing “chemicals capable of forming an improvised explosive device,” police said.
Howell was arrested by Santa Monica police on suspicion of possessing an explosive device, possessing a loaded firearm in a vehicle and possessing high-capacity magazines.
Robert Boyd, Howell’s attorney in a Kentucky criminal case, told The Times on Monday that his client’s father and mother are struggling to get details about their son’s latest arrest.
“His family is shocked to learn about the situation,” he said.
Initially, Santa Monica Police Chief Jacqueline Seabrooks said on Twitter that Howell told one of her officers after he was arrested that he wanted “to harm” the gay pride event. A department spokesman said later that the tweet was a misstatement and that although Howell told investigators he was going to the Pride festival, he did not make additional statements about his intentions.
Howell’s family is “fully cooperating” with federal investigators, according to Boyd.
He added that Howell’s family was concerned about the Santa Monica Police Department spreading “misinformation” about their son’s arrest.
Details about the case, Boyd said, “may have been blown out of proportion.”
“They are very interested to find out the true facts of the case,” he said.
For breaking California news, follow @JosephSerna.
3:39: This post was updated with details of Howell’s plea in court.
1:10 p.m.: This post was updated with details of the weapons Howell had in his possession.
12:03 p.m.: This post was updated with charging details and comments from a law enforcement source.
9:08 a.m.: This post was updated with details on the search of Howell’s residence.
This article was originally published at 7:14 a.m.
Get breaking news, investigations, analysis and more signature journalism from the Los Angeles Times in your inbox.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.