LOS ANGELES — James Wesley Howell, a 20-year old bisexual man who told police he was on his way to L.A. Pride when he was arrested Sunday for carrying assault rifles and materials to make explosives, was formally charged Tuesday with unlawful possession of those dangerous weapons.
The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office formally charged Howell today with three felonies: unlawful possession of an assault weapon, possession of a destructive device on a public street, and manufacturing or importing large magazines. He was also charged with a misdemeanor for carrying a loaded firearm in a vehicle.
Howell appeared in court and pleaded not guilty through his public defender at the Los Angeles County Superior Court’s Airport Branch Tuesday. The judge raised his bail from $500,000 to $2 million at the request of a bail deviation from the district attorney's office, which called him a "danger to the community" in a court document.
Police reported Sunday that he was found with three assault rifles and materials to create a pipe bomb. The bail deviation document showed Howell was also found inside his car with a black hoodie, a taser, handcuffs, a buck knife, a security badge, and extra ammunition for the rifles. There was also a five-gallon container of gasoline "filled to the brim," as Deputy District Attorney Sean Carney described in court Tuesday.
In a video posted online by Los Angeles Daily News, Judge Keith L. Schwarz, who presided over the case Tuesday, is seen responding to the bail deviation request with a comment on the Orlando shootings: "Given the current tenor of what's happening in the country, you can't use that ... as the reason for setting bail."
"You have to look specifically at the particular facts that you have in this particular case, and not be guided by outside influences," Judge Schwarz told the deputy district attorney. The guns Howell had were purchased legally, and Judge Schwarz suggested the real factor guiding his decision in raising the bail was that Howell had been convicted of a crime in March in Indiana that prohibited him from using or possessing weapons.
Howell can be seen nodding his head in agreement when Judge Schwarz called the purchase of his guns legal, then stopping when Schwarz justified raising the bail.
The three assault rifles found in his vehicle were detailed in court documents as an Anderson Manufacturing AM-15 .223 caliber rifle, a .30-06 caliber bolt-action rifle, and a .22 caliber Ruger semi-automatic rifle. The AM-15 is considered to be an "AR style assault weapon and is a prohibited Category 3 assault weapon under California law," stated the document. That rifle was found loaded with a 30-round detachable magazine, along with a second 30-round magazine "taped to the first and inverted," said police in the statement. Police stated that the AM-15 and the .30-06 "had rounds loaded into the chamber as well as in the magazine."
Howell was also found to be in possession of a 25-pound container of Shoc-Shot on the passenger seat floorboard of his car; this is an explosive that can be purchased commercially for exploding targets. The two ingredients of the explosive had been mixed together, reported Det. Derek Leone of the Santa Monica Police Department.
"I know based on my training and experience that the amount of explosives in the container would have posed a grave danger to both persons and property had the explosive been detonated, either intentionally or accidently, in a public space," wrote Leone in the bail deviation, which requested bail be raised to $2 million, which the judge granted.
The officer described Howell as a "flight risk" because the defendant has no family or any significant ties that would keep him from leaving the state of California. The document also referenced the defendant's past criminal history.
Howell had a prior misdemeanor violation in Indiana for "intimidation where the defendant uses or draws a deadly weapon." The defendant was placed on probation for the violation and was not allowed to possess any weapons as part of the conditions of his probation. Howell also had a restraining order issued against him in Indiana, which prevented him from possessing any firearms. The officer reported that Howell told police in Los Angeles that he left Indiana over concerns about existing or pending criminal charges he faces in that state.
Leone called Howell a "significant danger to the community." If Howell is convicted, he could face up to nine years and eight months in prison. Howell is scheduled to appear in court again June 29.
Police encountered Howell when responding to a call about a suspected prowler knocking on doors and windows early Sunday morning. Howell, who was in a car with Indiana license plates, told the officers he was waiting for a friend and was headed to L.A. Pride. The police then inspected his car and found three assault rifles, high capacity magazines and ammunition, plus a five-gallon bucket with chemicals they said could’ve been used to create an improvised explosive device.
It was tannerite, an ingredient that could be used to create a pipe bomb, according to the Los Angeles Times. “They found him with weapons that were very disconcerting,” a source told the paper.
The arrest in the Los Angeles suburb came in the wake of the mass shooting at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla., but authorities have announced no connection between the two incidents.