Man who fired shot during cocaine theft from gyro shop pleads guilty to federal crimes

June 29, 2018 GMT

A former worker at an East Washington Avenue gyro shop who was arrested last year after police said he shot a man trying to steal cocaine from him pleaded guilty Thursday to federal drug and firearms charges.

Eric C. Howard, 38, of Madison, was initially charged in Dane County Circuit Court with reckless endangerment and other crimes for shooting a 34-year-old man on Sept. 25 who had grabbed a bag of cocaine from Howard and ran from Spartan Gyros, 2702 E. Washington Ave.

But those charges were dropped in favor of the federal charges, which carry up to life imprisonment, though a sentence that long would seem unlikely.

Howard pleaded guilty to possessing cocaine with intent to deliver, which carries a sentence of up to 20 years in prison. He also pleaded guilty to discharging a firearm during a drug trafficking crime, which carries a mandatory minimum 10-year prison sentence that would follow whatever sentence he receives for the drug conviction. The maximum sentence for the gun crime is life imprisonment.

Howard is scheduled to be sentenced by U.S. District Judge James Peterson on Sept. 27.

A criminal complaint filed after the shooting states that Howard shot a man who had come to Spartan Gyros to buy $1,300 worth of cocaine. After Howard weighed the cocaine on a scale in a food preparation area at the takeout restaurant, the complaint states, the man tried to run out the door with it, but Howard shot him in the back when he nearly reached the door.

The man told police he grabbed the cocaine and ran because he didn’t have the money to buy it, the complaint states. Howard said he reacted and shot the man with a gun he had in his waistband after the man “bolted” for the door with the cocaine, according to the complaint.

The man who was shot survived.

A search of the restaurant by police after the shooting turned up 28 grams of cocaine, along with other bags of cocaine in smaller amounts, the complaint states.