Whitehall Board of Education member Brandon Howard pleaded guilty Feb. 4 in Franklin County Common Pleas Court to a misdemeanor charge of carrying a concealed weapon.
The plea closed a criminal case that began in August 2012 at Whitehall's "National Night Out" in John Bishop Park.
Franklin County Common Pleas Court Judge Daniel Hogan sentenced Howard to 90 days in jail, but suspended the sentence in lieu of payment of a $300 fine and court costs by March 4. Hogan also ordered the firearm Howard had destroyed.
On Sept. 28, 2012, a Franklin County grand jury indicted Howard, 21, on a fourth-degree felony charge of carrying a concealed weapon, but the Franklin County Prosecutor's Office accepted Howard's plea to a misdemeanor, through his attorney, Samuel Shamansky.
Shamansky said Feb. 11 that he and Howard were pleased with the decision and appreciative of the consideration of the court.
"Mr. Howard has learned a valuable lesson and is eager to move forward with his employment and education ... and will follow the law," Shamansky said.
Assistant Franklin County Prosecutor John P. Gripshover said a felony count of carrying a concealed weapon is generally reserved for a person guilty of carrying a loaded and concealed weapon without a permit; misdemeanor counts of the same charge are reserved for people carrying a concealed weapon that is unloaded or inoperable, he said.
"The state must prove that a defendant had a loaded gun and that the gun was operable," Gripshover said.
But in Howard's case, police did not immediately impound the firearm he was carrying Aug. 7, calling into question whether the weapon police retrieved from Howard two days later was in fact, the same gun.
"It wasn't seized immediately, but was asked for later," Gripshover said.
The gun was tested and found operable.
However, it could not be unequivocally proven that the gun police tested had also been operable when Howard carried it at Bishop Park, nor whether it was the same firearm.
Howard's clean record was also a factor, he said.
"Because of a lack of prior record, and not being able to prove that the gun seized was the same gun (Howard had at Bishop Park), the state made the decision that the resolution reached in court was in the best interest (of the state)," Gripshover said.
Prosecutors surmised that police gave Howard, who claimed to have a permit to carry a concealed weapon, the benefit of the doubt, allowing another person who police confirmed had a permit, to take possession of the firearm. But in doing so, police made it problematic for prosecutors to prove their case.
The incident might be a "learning experience," Gripshover said.
On Aug. 7, 2012, Whitehall police learned that Howard was carrying a concealed weapon during National Night Out. According to a Whitehall police report, school board member Mike Adkins informed Whitehall Police Chief Richard Zitzke that Howard was carrying a concealed handgun and did not have a permit.
Zitzke and Whitehall Maj. Trent Martin approached Howard and asked if he had a gun. Howard told police he was carrying a firearm. He told police he had obtained a permit about a week earlier, as part of his employment with a security company.
Howard told police he did not have the permit but usually keeps it in his vehicle. Police accompanied Howard to his vehicle, where he was unable to locate it and advised police it was at his residence.
Brandon Howard's father, Brent Howard and Bill Wood, the spouse of another Whitehall school board member, arrived at Brandon Howard's vehicle at that time, police said.
According to the report, police did not consider Brandon Howard a flight risk and believed he had recently obtained the permit. Police allowed Brent Howard to take possession of the firearm.
Brandon Howard told police he would present the permit at the Whitehall Division of Police by 4 p.m. the following day, police said.
When Brandon Howard did not report to the station Aug. 8, police contacted the Franklin County Sheriff's Office and were told CCW permits are filed with the state of Ohio as they are issued.
On Aug. 9, Whitehall police detained Brandon Howard during a traffic stop. He told police his employer had mistakenly informed him he had a permit to carry a firearm.
According to the report, Brandon Howard told police he was a "victim of relying on what his boss told him" and would no longer carry a gun.
Brandon Howard told police his employer never gave him any documentation, contradicting what the initially told police Aug. 7 at National Night Out, police said in the report.
Police confiscated the firearm.
According to the report, Brandon Howard told police he assumed the issue would be "just swept under the rug," Zitzke wrote in his report.
Howard, 21, is serving his first term on the Whitehall Board of Education. He was elected in November 2011. He is a 2009 graduate of Bishop Hartley High School.
His mother, Ronda Howard, also is a Whitehall school board member. His father, Brent Howard, the city's current treasurer, is a former City Council president.
Whitehall Board of Education President Walter Armes, via e-mail, indicated he had no comment concerning the resolution of the case.