LOGAN — A traffic stop by Logan Police on Dec. 13 resulted in officers seizing suspected drugs, drug paraphernalia and a loaded firearm that had been reported stolen – but lack of space at the Southeastern Ohio Regional Jail meant the man they arrested had to be released.
The warden of the jail, however, gave assurances this week that for arrestees charged with the most serious types of offense, the jail will find somewhere to house them.
According to a police incident report, officers were running interdiction in the city around 1:30 a.m. when they spotted a car with a broken rear window, parked at a Mulberry Street gas station/convenience store. When an officer ran the license plate it came back as expired two years previous, and when the car pulled out an officer followed it, hit his flashing lights and made a traffic stop. At that point the officer saw the car was carrying a second license plate, registered to a different vehicle.
The driver, 28-year-old Zachariah Virgil Howell, reportedly told the officer that his driving privileges were suspended. When asked if he had anything in the car that the officer should be concerned about, Howell said no. However, the officer thought Howell seemed “overly nervous,” and called for a police canine to sniff the outside of the vehicle. When the dog alerted on the passenger side, the officer had Howell exit the vehicle, patted him down, and prepared to search the interior of the car.
At that point Howell reportedly advised the officer “that he forgot he had a gun in the car,” and that a handgun was under the seat.
The firearm, a Smith & Wesson MP45 Shield, had a magazine inserted, with seven rounds of ammunition. When the officer ran the serial number it came back as reported stolen.
The officer handcuffed Howell and gave him his Miranda warning, at which point Howell said he would not talk and wanted an attorney. A search of the vehicle allegedly turned up numerous items of drug paraphernalia, a shard of suspected methamphetamine, and a box of ammunition for the gun.
Howell’s vehicle was impounded. When officers tried to put Howell into the regional jail, however, according to the incident report they were told that the facility was “only taking violent felonies.” Though an officer explained that Howell had been found in possession of an allegedly stolen handgun, the report says, “the jail still refused to accept (him) as a prisoner.”
Jail Warden Josh VanBibber told The Logan Daily News Wednesday that the specific case of Howell “has not been brought to my attention,” but that as a more general matter of policy, “we’re not discretionarily taking inmates; it’s just all dependent upon… available bed space.”
He said the amount of available bed space at the jail, which serves five counties, changes constantly. “It’s fluid,” VanBibber said. “It changes on a day-to-day, actually a shift-to-shift basis.” Though the jail might have three beds open at the beginning of a shift, he explained, with five counties sending potential inmates “it can take literally five minutes to fill those beds.”
VanBibber said that when the jail does have to refuse a prisoner it will reach out to the referring agency and “we’ll try to find an alternative if available… whether it’s with another county, or another agency.”
He added that for arrestees facing the highest level charges – he gave as some examples murder, felonious assault, assault on a police officer, rape and kidnapping – the jail will somehow make room.
“For that highest tier we would find space,” he said. “Even if there’s not a bed available, we would find somewhere to put them here.”
Howell, the Logan Police report states, “is homeless and plans to move to Alabama soon.”