Friends in Indiana described Howell as a gun enthusiast with a short temper. In October, he twice was accused of pulling a gun and making threats, once against his then-boyfriend and once against a neighbor.
Howell was convicted in April of misdemeanor intimidation for the incident with his neighbor. Under the terms of his probation, Howell was not allowed to have weapons or leave Indiana.
When he was picked up in Santa Monica, there was an assault rifle in his car’s passenger seat and 15 pounds of “Shoc-Shot,” two chemicals that explode when mixed and shot. The assault rifle was loaded with a 30-round magazine, which had another inverted 30-round magazine taped to it, according to police.
Deputy District Attorney Sean Carney said gun enthusiasts don’t mix Shoc-Shot until it’s ready to be used, as federal regulations require, and the amount that Howell had “far exceeds any amount that would reasonably be used.”
Howell’s attorney, Pamela Jones, told the judge there was no evidence Howell planned to detonate the chemicals. She said a black hood found in his car was “just a clothing item,” and nothing indicated Howell planned to use it as a mask, as police contended was a possibility.
James Wedick, a former longtime FBI agent, said the manipulation of the gun magazines would allow someone to reload 30 rounds in less than 2 seconds.
“It doubles your killing capacity by 100 percent,” he said. For a civilian to have a weapon rigged as such, “it suggests his purposes are deadly.”
The FBI took the lead in the investigation and its probe continues, spokeswoman Laura Eimiller said.
Federal agents searched Howell’s Jeffersonville, Indiana, home Monday but declined to release any details.
Rebecca Lonergan, a former federal prosecutor who teaches national security law at the University of Southern California, said filing the state charges keeps Howell in custody while the FBI continues building its own possible case.
“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.
On Tuesday, the sheriff’s office in Clark County, Indiana, said Howell also is the subject of a sexual assault investigation. The alleged incident occurred May 31, about two weeks before Howell’s arrest in California.
Davies reported from Indianapolis. Associated Press writers Christopher Weber and Christine Armario in Los Angeles, Claire Galofaro in Jeffersonville, Indiana, and Dylan Lovan in Charlestown, Indiana, contributed to this report.
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