Trusted local news leader for Prescott area communities since 1882
Wed, Aug. 21

Need is for rethinking in the Howell case

Misuse of authority can become a perpetual downward spiral that can bring out the worst in the best of people.

That dynamic shows blatantly in the case of Robert Howell. Howell is a local mechanic who seems destined to pay a horrible price for the actions of his drug-culture son, Brian, and the egos of members of the Prescott Area Narcotics Task Force (PANT).

Brian had a drug problem, and the Howells had banned him from their home unless Howell or his wife were there.

But this past March, PANT officers say that 72 hours before this downward spiral kicked off, they bought less than an ounce of marijuana from Brian at the home. After a small-time grass buy, members of PANT made an early-morning raid on the home on March 5 worthy of Pablo Escobar Armed with a search warrant looking for Brian, the officers started breaking down Howell's front door.

Awakened from a sound sleep, Howell thought someone was trying to break in. He grabbed a .45 semi-automatic pistol. Just as the door gave way, Howell fired impulsively. Luckily for everyone, the bullet didn't hit anyone. The minute he realized the intruders were police, Howell dropped the gun and surrendered.

The officers, however, charged Howell with four counts of attempted murder, four counts of aggravated assault and one Class 6 felony count of discharging a firearm in the city limits.

Howell shouldn't have fired the shot even in the face of overkill actions by the police, but he shouldn't face anything more than a misdemeanor charge for that.

Judge Janis Sterling dismissed the attempted murder charges but allowed the others to stand. Howell has both personal injury and criminal attorneys advising him, and they sometimes have conflicting interests.

At any rate, Howell turned down an offer to plead guilty to the felony firearms discharge in return for the state dismissing the aggravated assault charges. None of this would have happened if PANT officers hadn't decided on the raid, and he doesn't deserve a felony record for their poor judgment.

It would be the right thing for Howell to take his medicine on the misdemeanor firearms discharge count and for the state to walk away grateful that the uncalled-for show of force didn't lead to a worse outcome.

Instead, the county attorney has added four counts of endangerment to the charges.

Payback can be hell.

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