More Details Released About Alleged OU Assault, Search For Suspect

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The investigation into the assault of an Ohio University staff member was helped by a local gun owner, but a concrete motive has not been established, according to officials.

James D. Howard (Courtesy: SEORJ)
James D. Howard (Courtesy: SEORJ)

James D. Howard, of Canfield, was charged with burglary and having weapons while under disability, both felony offenses, by Ohio University police, according to a news release.

Police said that shortly before noon on Monday, police responded to the report of an assault at Bird Arena, near Richland Avenue.

A male subject, later identified as Howard, reportedly entered a staff member’s office at the arena, shoved the staff member, and attempted to strike him with a closed fist, the release stated.

“I can’t speculate about what was in his head,” said OU Police Chief Andrew Powers.

Police have interviewed Howard about the incident, but they say a motive hasn’t been established. Powers said it is believed Howard was looking for a staff member of the arena when he entered the facility, but the employee that was assaulted was not that person.

Howard was “apparently affiliated” with the OU hockey team, according to Powers. Howard is reportedly a former player on the team.

When investigators received information that Howard talked about buying a gun, OU police were prepared to send out a campus-wide notification.

“I certainly think that one possibility was that he could have committed a shooting,” Powers said.

But before the notification could be sent out, OU police received word that Howard had been taken into custody in Hocking County.

The Hocking County Sheriff’s Office said they received a phone call from a local gun store in Logan, according to a news release posted to their Facebook.

“The owner advised that a male came in to purchase a firearm and was making statements that made the owner question his mental stability and the reason for purchasing the firearm,” the release stated.

When the owner, who was not identified, told the man he would not sell him the firearm, sheriff’s deputies said the male “became agitated and began screaming threats at the owner as he was (leaving) the store,” according to the release.

Powers said quick thinking by a deputy from Hocking County led him to call OUPD and ask about the man for whom they had issued a warrant. Previous information had led OUPD to believe Howard had traveled to Youngstown.

“When they called, that changed our assessment,” Powers said.

Howard returned to the gun store shortly after the store had closed, the store owner told Hocking County deputies. They later located Howard’s vehicle in a Walmart parking lot with the help of the Logan Police Department.

“Deputies located Howard inside the store at the firearms counter attempting to purchase a large quantity of ammunition, gloves and camouflage clothing,” the sheriff’s office stated in their release.

A “newly purchased” firearm was found in the back seat of Howard’s vehicle along with “other survival gear” after a search warrant was executed, investigators stated.

It was initially reported that the gun was a shotgun, but Powers said it was later found to be a .22-caliber rifle.

Howard was taken into custody and transported to the Southeastern Ohio Regional Jail. He is now under a $100,000 bond.

“The burglary charge stems from Howard’s alleged assault of the staff member, while the weapons under disability charge results from his possession of a firearm after a previous involuntary admission to a mental health facility,” the police department said in the release.

The charges carry a maximum penalty of 13 years in prison and a $25,000 fine.