Dan McDonald’s story: homeless man jailed for 18th time in 16 years

Sign outside Robert Reyes’ house (KXAN Photo / Erin Cargile)

AUSTIN (KXAN) – Less than a mile from the iconic El Arroyo marquee sign on West 5th Street, owners of the Old West Austin neighborhood are posting their own posts.

Robert Reyes has stapled brand new “no trespassing” signs to the fence outside his home. They are posted near the “WARNING: Security cameras in use” signs that he nailed to the side of his house some time ago.

It is clear that someone is not welcome.

“I want to see him stay in jail,” Reyes said without hesitation.

Reyes talks about the person he caught on his home security camera. Several video clips show a man entering his carport, opening the door of a van and starting to search the seat.

Reyes received an alert on his phone as soon as motion was detected in the first week of May, but when he first glanced at the video clips he thought it was his father who also lives with him. When he looked closely, it was clear that the man was not his father.

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Image from security camera footage Robert Reyes sent to Austin Police (Courtesy Robert Reyes)

Reyes sent the video clips to Austin Police and, according to court records, officers were able to confirm he was the same guy the other neighbors were calling. An arrest warrant said a neighbor saw him fight someone on the sidewalk while holding a knife, and another neighbor called 911 when she was shocked to find him standing on her patio back.

Austin police arrested Dan McDonald, 35, later that night.

It was a relief for Reyes’ neighbor Carol Austin, who told KXAN that someone entered her unlocked house the same day while she was taking a nap. She said she found her purse emptied and placed upside down on her driveway with $ 80 in cash missing. Austin said she also noticed milk was missing from her fridge, along with a loaf of banana bread on the counter and peanut butter.

“My feeling is that when he comes out he will probably come back here because he knows the area well,” Austin said. “It’s his workspace.”

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Carol Austin said she was $ 80 in cash missing from her purse (KXAN Photo / Erin Cargile)

Jeff Albrecht, who also filed a police report after his home was broken into, added more security cameras to the perimeter. He reached out to KXAN for more answers on McDonald’s. He said a neighbor had dug online and shared information on Nextdoor suggesting the suspect had been arrested and charged with car burglary and criminal trespassing on several occasions previously.

“Is this what we do as a city?” Said Albrecht. “Where we let people get arrested, let them break into homes and cars… then let them go out onto the streets and start over – or is there a plan? Or is there a failure of a plan? “

McDonald’s dreamed of playing college football

An online criminal background check finds McDonald’s has been arrested 18 times in the past 16 years, with nearly half of the arrests in the past year and a half. His long criminal history dates back to 2005, when he was 20 years old.

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Dan McDonald in his high school football uniform (courtesy of the McDonald family)

Long before McDonald’s became a familiar face behind bars – after being convicted of around 20 crimes, including theft, aggravated assault and burglary – his family say he grew up in eastern Austin and that he was one of five siblings.

“We knew Dan before homelessness, before drugs, before mental health issues,” said a close family member who asked KXAN not to share his name.

Family members told KXAN that McDonald, who grew up in poverty, was a talented high school athlete who dreamed of playing college football, but those goals were ruined when he was arrested for marijuana. His family said he attended Huston-Tillotson University, but was demotivated with no sports in his life and started using harder drugs and alcohol to cope. Substance abuse ultimately triggered serious mental health issues around 2008, according to the family, which were made worse by the death of her mother in 2014 and the death of her father two years later.

McDonald’s has been homeless and in jail since then, according to family and court records.

A family member, who didn’t know McDonald’s was back in jail, said he used to keep in touch with his siblings and aunt, but they haven’t heard from him at all of him over the past year and a half.

In March of this year, when an Austin police officer informed McDonald that he was arrested on burglary on a vehicle charge, the arrest warrant read, “He said he didn’t care.” , that he would go out and do it again just like the last time. “The family does not believe he currently possesses the mental faculties necessary to be successful in society and said it was evident that the endless cycle in and out of the criminal justice system was not functioning.

“If they have the power to say, ‘We’re going to lock you up. You’re going to go to jail ”, they should also have the power to say,“ We’re going to put you in this facility, in this mental health facility or in this drug program, you know, ”” he said. she says.

In her opinion, McDonald’s two greatest needs are access to mental health services and safe housing.

She said there was a three-year period that he lived in a group home in Austin and was doing well. He kept in touch with his family by writing letters, but eventually he came back downstairs. They said he became homeless which gave him easy access to drugs on the streets and reverted to his old ways.

What are his options in prison?

Travis County District and County Courts have implemented mental health, alcohol and drug diversion programs to match suspects like McDonald’s with resources aimed at keeping people healthy and safe. get off the street.

But, even if McDonald’s goes this route, which is voluntary, one of its former criminal defense attorneys, Doran Sauer, said there was no guarantee the help would be there.

“There just isn’t enough housing, there isn’t enough mental health beds,” Sauer said. “It’s a constant obstacle in trying to find enough resources for everyone.”

Sauer represents many homeless clients and said the mental health record is still full. The lack of resources contributing to the revolving door of Travis County Jail is one of the biggest issues the city and county are trying to address.

Rickey Jones, of the Travis County District Attorney’s Office, manages all felony diversion programs.

“I think the denial period is pretty much over and I think everyone is aware of these mental health issues, these drug issues,” said Rickey Jones, “And yes, I believe the county and the city will engage soon launch these projects and launch this aid for people who need it. “

A solution recently proposed by KXAN in April that could help suspects like McDonald’s is a diversion center, which could be paid for with federal stimulus dollars. This would provide a place to go other than jail for people with untreated mental health and addiction issues.

Despite the lack of resources, Jones said the majority of suspects accept the mental health services offered by the prison. Mental health screenings are taken during the booking process, and Jones said suspects have time to stabilize before making legal decisions for themselves.

Jones said that so far this year, more than 400 inmates have accepted mental health assistance.

It is not known whether McDonald’s will take this route. His current defense attorney, Marc Chavez, who was appointed to him after the May arrest, said he was trying to reach his client in prison. Chavez said McDonald has yet to contact to set up a video conference, so he plans to go to the prison this week to visit him in person. It’s a conversation that needs to take place before putting in place a potential plan.

“I’ll do my best to provide her with mental health resources,” Chavez said over the phone. The decision ultimately rests with McDonald’s.

McDonald’s family is hopeful he chooses help and the 35-year-old will one day be on a better path.

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Carol Austin outside her home in Old West Austin (KXAN Photo / Erin Cargile)

“Some people won’t want the help, but they might need it next week,” said Sauer, who said it takes time, patience and trust between suspects and health experts. mental community.

Back in the neighborhood where McDonald’s was recently arrested, opinions are mixed on what should happen next.

“He doesn’t want help,” Reyes said. “I know it’s hard to say, but I think jail would be the best place for him.

Austin, which is now locking its doors at all times, hopes the resources will come as soon as possible for McDonald’s.

“There are people who just want these people to get off the streets, they don’t care what happens to them,” Austin said. “Well, we have to care what happens to them or we will continue to be their victim.”


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