Chief Andrew Powers,
Ohio University Police Department
To the OHIO Community:
As you are probably aware, a 25-year-old, former Ohio University student was arrested Monday after he reportedly assaulted a staff member here on campus. The circumstances of his arrest have led many to speculate about his intentions. I am writing to provide factual information about what happened on Monday, share what is being done to follow up on this case, and offer suggestions for what you can do to contribute to our community’s safety.
What happened Monday
Last Monday morning, James Howard withdrew from his classes, then allegedly assaulted a staff member at Bird Arena. The assault was reported to OUPD, and we subsequently obtained warrants for Howard’s arrest. We now know that, while we were obtaining the warrants, Howard left campus and traveled between Logan and Athens, attempting to buy a firearm. A gun shop in Logan refused to sell him a gun, but he was able to buy a rifle from a store in Athens. He then returned to Logan, where he was arrested on our warrants by the Hocking County Sheriff’s Office. The arresting deputies located Howard at the Logan Walmart, where he was buying ammunition.
As concerning as these facts may sound, we have gathered no information so far to indicate Howard made any specific threats toward individuals or our campus in general. Furthermore, it is important to remember that our criminal justice system is founded on the presumption of innocence. We must take care as a community to respond to this situation based on what actually happened, not what might have happened. To do otherwise risks violating Howard’s rights.
What happens now
OUPD’s detectives are continuing to work diligently to investigate this case by gathering statements and collecting evidence in consultation with Athens County Prosecutor Keller Blackburn’s office. Anyone who recently interacted with James Howard is asked to call OUPD Det. Sargent at 740.593.1911 to provide a statement.
Howard is currently incarcerated in the Southeast Ohio Regional Jail. Yesterday, we charged him with a third felony, and, through the Prosecutor, requested a higher bond. The request was granted, and Howard’s bond was raised to $125,000 with no ability to post less than that for release. While this makes it unlikely Howard will be released from jail soon, the Judge also imposed a ban from Ohio University as an additional condition of bond. The Division of Student Affairs has also served Howard with an administrative ban from campus. If you see Howard on campus, do not engage him; retreat to a safe place (if possible) and call the police immediately.
What you can do
There are a number of people to commend for their actions in response to this situation. Several staff members reported concern about Howard after he withdrew from classes on Monday, and the staff at Bird Arena were quick to report the assault. The gun shop owner in Logan refused to sell Howard a gun and instead alerted local police. All of these examples underscore the importance of calling the police when you encounter suspicious circumstances—if you see something, say something. Take all threats seriously, and remember, even though something might not seem significant to you at the time, your call could supply us with critical information that is part of a bigger picture.
Learn about the Student Review and Consultation Committee (SRCC), OHIO’s multi-disciplinary behavioral intervention team led by the Dean of Students office. The team reviews cases in which students have exhibited concerning, but perhaps not overtly threatening, behavior. In many instances, those referred are experiencing a mental health crisis and the team connects them with appropriate resources. SRCC also works closely with OUPD to assess potential threats. Anyone can make a referral to SRCC. Click here for more information.
Know how to respond to an armed intruder by watching our short video here, reading our pamphlet here, or by attending a full length session of ALiCE: Armed Intruder Response training. Our next public session of ALiCE is scheduled for April 18 from 6–8 p.m. in room 242 at Baker University Center. ALiCE sessions are free and can also be arranged for your work or community group. Call OUPD Lt. Hoskinson at 740.593.1911 to get more information or schedule an ALiCE session.
Finally, practice self care. This incident has been unsettling for our entire community, especially those who encountered Howard on Monday or have a past connection to him. It’s normal to experience anxiety, sleeplessness, difficulty focusing or other behavioral changes following this type of event, and Ohio University has confidential support services available to help. Students can find support at Counseling and Psychological Services on the third floor of Hudson Health Center; click here for more information. Faculty and staff can obtain support through the Employee Assistance Program; more information is available by clicking here.
The path forward
Ohio University has robust processes in place to safeguard our community. Information is shared internally through SRCC and OUPD’s threat assessment process, while OUPD’s external relationships with local, state and federal partners ensure that we aren’t operating in a vacuum. In this case, our processes worked, and it is possible that a tragic event was averted. Although we cannot guarantee that this will always be the result, doing your part by reporting suspicious behavior, and preparing yourself with training like ALiCE, dramatically increases our odds of experiencing similar outcomes in the future.
Best wishes for the remainder of spring semester,
Andrew D. Powers
Chief, Ohio University Police Department