Athens Man Gets Four Years After Assault of OU Employee

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The Athens man whose assault of an OU employee led to a region-wide search has pleaded guilty to charges stemming from the incident.

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

James D. Howard, 25, was sentenced to four years and six months in prison for burglary and tampering with evidence, both third-degree felonies, after entering a plea agreement with the Athens County Prosecutor’s Office.

He may also face three years of post-release control if the courts choose to impose it.

Ohio University Police Department officials said that shortly before noon on March 21, officers responded to the report of an assault at Bird Arena near Richland Avenue.

“A male subject, later identified as James 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. “Howard then left campus and police were later advised he had told a friend he was going to buy a gun.”

Howard was “apparently affiliated” with the OU hockey team, OU Police Chief Andrew Powers told WOUB at the time of the incident. Howard is reportedly a former player on the team.

Warrants were obtained for Howard’s arrest and other law enforcement agencies were notified to assist in locating Howard.

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.

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.

“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 a release.

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