LOS ANGELES – An Indiana man was charged Tuesday with three felony weapons violations after authorities say they found three assault rifles and explosive chemicals in his car before a major Los Angeles gay pride parade.
James Wesley Howell, 20, made his first appearance in Los Angeles County Superior Court, where a 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.
He also was charged with a misdemeanor count of possessing a loaded firearm in a vehicle.
A judge set bail at $2 million, saying Howell poses “a significant public safety danger.”
A federal investigation of Howell was ongoing, said Laura Eimiller, an FBI spokeswoman in Los Angeles.
Howell was arrested Sunday in Santa Monica, when police say the weapons and explosives were found in a car he apparently drove from Indiana. Howell 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 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.
Not too much can be inferred at this point simply because Howell only faces state charges, said Rebecca Lonergan, a former federal prosecutor who teaches national security law at the University of Southern California,
If no charges had been filed by Tuesday, authorities would have had to release Howell. The state charges allow him to be held while federal investigators continue their probe, Lonergan said.
“In the atmosphere we have where there is such great concern about active shooters, about terrorism, about hate crimes, both the state and federal investigators are going to want to thoroughly look at this guy,” she said.
Federal agents searched Howell’s Jeffersonville, Indiana, home on Monday but declined to release any details.
On Tuesday, the sheriff’s office in Clark County, Indiana, said Howell also is the subject of a sexual assault investigation. The incident occurred on May 31, about two weeks before Howell’s arrest in California.
Bobby Boyd, a Kentucky attorney who represented Howell in a local case, did not return a message seeking comment.
In October, Howell was accused twice within four days of pulling a gun and making threats. The first incident involved Howell’s then-boyfriend and the second a neighbor.
Both men told The Associated Press that Howell was hot-headed.
“He’s got a lot of anger problems,” said Richard Hambrick, Howell’s ex-boyfriend.
Grace Logsdon, Howell’s former roommate, said Howell owned five guns and had a bad temper. During one trip to a gun range, she said Howell told her: “‘I wish I could kill a lot of people.'”
Howell was convicted in April of misdemeanor intimidation stemming from the incident involving his neighbor and was sentenced to a year of probation. Under terms of his probation, Howell was not allowed to have weapons or leave Indiana.
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 wasn’t seized because no arrest was made at the time, Ledbetter said.
If convicted of all the charges, prosecutors say Howell could face up to nine years and eight months in prison.