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Former Cedar Rapids city worker who brought gun into work receives deferred judgment, probation on weapons charges

CEDAR RAPIDS — A judge granted a deferred judgment and probation to a former City of Cedar Rapids worker, who brought a sawed-off shotgun into the City Services Center last year, on two weapons charges Tuesday in Linn County District Court.

Russell J. Howard, 42, formerly of Solon, pleaded guilty in December to unauthorized possession of offensive weapons, a felony, and carrying weapons, an aggravated misdemeanor.

Howard, during sentencing on Tuesday, said that if he could take back his actions on Aug. 23 and “find help I’m getting today ... to manage my stress” he would. Howard added that he was remorseful for what happened that day.

Court documents show Howard, a former nuisance abatement officer who worked in the building permit inspection area of the City Services Center, entered the building that day, armed with a shotgun at 10:38 a.m. Employees evacuated after someone activated a “panic button” to alert police.

The center, which is about a half mile south of downtown, houses the Building, Parks and Recreation, Streets, Information Technology, Health Services and Public Works departments. About 375 employees work in the building.

Cedar Rapids police responded and formed a perimeter around the building.

Police said Howard made threats to harm himself before he retreated to a workplace area within the building. When police arrived, they made contact with Howard and took him into custody at 11:35 a.m. Howard was hospitalized after the incident and arrested upon his discharge on Sept. 1. He was fired by the city the day he was released from the hospital. He had worked for as a nuisance abatement officer since 2009.

Todd Weimer, Howard’s lawyer, told the court that Howard had a “significant lapse in judgment” that day, but he didn’t plan to harm anyone but himself. Howard was under stress from work and having child care and custody issues stemming from his marital situation, Weimer said.

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Weimer, in arguing for a deferred judgment and probation, instead of up to seven years in prison, pointed out that Howard had followed through with mental health treatment while on pretrial release and also added other treatment to help him handle stress. Howard is now living with his brother and sister-in-law, who will help him to continue his progress and provide support.

Howard’s brother and sister-in-law, as well as his wife, who he is separated from, were also in court Tuesday.

Assistant Linn County Attorney Rena Schulte, as part of the plea, didn’t make a sentencing recommendation based on letters from Howard’s medical and mental health providers, who said he wasn’t a “threat to the community.”

6th Judicial District Judge Sean McPartland granted the deferred judgment also based on those providers’ letters to the court and Howard’s progress.

l Comments: (319) 398-8318; trish.mehaffey@thegazette.com

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