INDIANAPOLIS — Police arrested a man after an investigation into the sexual assault of an 11-year-old girl at a neighborhood park Tuesday.
James Howard Jr. faces charges in connection with an incident that happened at the Legacy Park of Hope in Indianapolis. This is a neighborhood park that is being developed at the old Forest Manor Athletic Association Ball Fields.
Marion County Prosecutor Ryan Mears commended the girl and community helping them bring the case against Howard.
“The courage of the survivor cannot be overstated,” said Prosecutor Mears. “Her actions and information provided by the community put us in a position to file this case.”
The Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department responded to the park Tuesday after getting a call from an 11-year-old girl saying she was molested.
The girl told police that she went to the park shortly before 6 p.m. to watch a show on her phone while relaxing on a bench. A court document filed in the case said she had been to the park often and noticed a man she had never seen there before. The man was wearing a black baseball hat with the words “bad boy” on it and was using an orange phone.
A court document filed in the case said while watching the show, the man came up from behind her and put a black rag in her mouth. She dropped her phone, and the man dragged her to a wooded area near a fence. The girl said she could hear people talking on the other side of the fence.
The document said the man forced himself on her as she kicked him. Eventually, the man left and the girl was able to search for her phone to call for help.
The girl’s mother told police that her daughter left the house around 5:30 that afternoon. While she left without her sister, the girl’s mother said she was not worried because the daughter has a lot of friends in the neighborhood.
It was only when the victim’s sister was not able to get ahold of her on the phone that the girl’s mother became worried. The mother told police that her daughter never ran away or had any discipline problems.
The girl’s mother drove around looking for her daughter until seeing police at the park. The document said when she asked them about her daughter, they told her that she was at the hospital.
A nearby neighbor told police that she heard rustling in the woods but thought it was just a big dog. The document said shortly after the rustling, she heard a little girl call for her papaw and saw a man running from around the corner before walking down the street.
While in the area the day after the incident, detectives came across a man, later identified as James Howard, that matched the description given by neighbors and the girl. The document said one of the detectives noticed the man wearing a black hat with the words “Bad Boy” on it.
As the detectives approached, the document said Howard took off the hat and turned it backward. While they were talking with him, the document said Howard took off his hat again and tried to cover the letters before telling police that he just bought the hat the previous day from a guy on the corner.
The document said Howard told them that he was staying with his ex-wife, who lives up the street from the park. He said at some time the day of the assault he went to the gas station. After asking him for his identification, the document said Howard pulled out his orange phone, at which point detectives arrested him.
After getting a search warrant, the document said police took clothing from Howard. One of the detectives said they found a black rag in his back pocket. The document said detectives spoke with Howard’s ex-wife, who said he had been wearing the black Bad Boy hat, along with two other hats, since he came to her home that Monday.
While speaking with Howard, the document said he said it was a big misunderstanding and that he bought the hat from a man that was about his same height and weight the previous day. He was unable to provide a detailed account of what he did the day of the assault.
When detectives told him that he was on camera near a park, the document said Howard told them there are many people that wear the same clothing as him. When Howard learned why detectives were asking about his phone, he told them that he left it at home the day of the assault.
Neighbors are disgusted by the allegations, but are relieved police were able to make a quick arrest.
“It’s scary. Kids shouldn’t have to worry about playing outside,” said neighbor Jennifer McCommon. “I’m glad they caught him because it shouldn’t happen to a child. It should not happen to a child.”
“It’s heartbreaking because we do a lot of work with the Legacy Park of Hope. It’s sad it happened. It should not have happened at all,” said pastor Donald Edwards Jr.
Edwards is the pastor at the Church of Glory directly across the street from the park. He hopes the story serves as a safety reminder to parents.
“This lets you know that parents have to be very careful how they watch over their children,” said Edwards.
“Just make sure you keep your kids safe. Keep an eye out. If they want to go somewhere, go with them,” said neighbor Jeremy Snider.
Howard was charged with child molesting, attempted child molesting, kidnapping and criminal confinement.