GALVESTON

The Galveston District Attorney’s Office is working with Donald Neely’s defense attorneys on an agreement that might get him mental health treatment, rather than paying a fine or serving jail time for a criminal trespassing charge, a top prosecutor said Wednesday.

“We are looking at our options on the mental health opportunities for Mr. Neely,” said Kevin Petroff, first assistant criminal attorney.

Neely, 43, became the center of national attention last week after photos of his arrest were posted on social media.

Neely, who is homeless and is diagnosed with bipolar disorder, was arrested for criminal trespassing Aug. 3 at the Galveston Park Board of Trustees building, 601 23rd St.

Two mounted Galveston police officers handcuffed Neely, attached him to a line and walked him down the street between their horses to a staging area about four blocks from where he had been arrested.

Photos of the arrest drew accusations of racism against the police because the images resembled historical depictions of slavery. Police Chief Vernon Hale has apologized for the way Neely was arrested, and the Texas Rangers and Galveston County Sheriff’s Office are now conducting independent investigations.

While the controversy around the way Neely was arrested continues to boil, the criminal case against him has moved forward, Petroff said.

Galveston County doesn’t have a mental health court — a specialized court set up to divert people with mental health problems out of the normal criminal justice system and connect them with programs that might be able to help them.

The county is in the very early stages of creating such a court. In June, commissioners voted to approve the creation of a mental health court and to appoint a judge to oversee it. The program is still in planning stages, however.

In the absence of a mental health court, Petroff was speaking to the Galveston County Probation Department to determine what options were available for Neely, he said.

One option is a probation agreement, Petroff said. Prosecutors also are looking into whether Neely qualifies for any existing diversion programs, he said.

Criminal trespassing is a Class B misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $2,000 and a jail term of up to 180 days.

The district attorney’s office decided Wednesday to accept the charges against Neely, Petroff said. Prosecutors contacted Melissa Morris, Neely’s criminal defense attorney, to talk about ways to resolve the case, Petroff said.

Morris was open to the idea of a “custom plea offer,” for Neely’s criminal case, she said.

“Instead of punishing him, we would be getting him help,” Morris said. “I think it’s great. I think it’s exactly the position that law enforcement needs to take — that jail should be for people we’re scared of, not for people who have mental health issues.”

Prosecutors’ plans differ from the way Neely was treated in other similar recent charges.

Of the seven times Neely has been charged with criminal trespassing this year, he pleaded no contest to five of them and was sentenced to spend between two and 40 days in the county jail, according to court records.

Petroff acknowledged Neely’s case was getting more attention now because of the attention his arrest has drawn.

“This case is different because of all the attention,” Petroff said. “Because of that attention, suddenly we’re communicating with his family and with an attorney that is working with his family. That already creates a distinct situation.”

John Wayne Ferguson: 409-683-5226; john.ferguson@galvnews.com or on Twitter @johnwferguson.

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(10) comments

Bailey Jones

Maybe some good will come of this after all. I hope Galveston County gets on the ball with this new mental health court. I've never seen a place that needs it more.

Doug Sivyer

You got that right Bailey!

Wayne Holt

It would be interesting if we wind up back at the position that mental health care and, if required, institutionalization is the most humane and compassionate response to situations like this. I can't see how being mentally ill and living on the street could be a better solution than what is proposed. We see a good number of apparently mentally disturbed people downtown. I strongly support efforts to divert those truly in need of care to alternatives that don't include jailing.

As to how to sort the wheat from the chaff, the lambs from the goats when some try to fake mental illness? Easy. Weekly gladiatorial contests between Carlos and Emile with each side of the issue having a champion. Hey, it worked in the Dark Ages, why not now?

Carlos Ponce

I'd rather combat in the field of ideas.

Joanie Steinhaus

Hopefully this will change the way our police interact with an individual with mental health concerns, and they receive care they need and not placed in jail

Carlos Ponce

So from now on, every criminal will act like he or she has a mental health problem when caught. I've known people who can fake mental conditions.

Don Schlessinger

How would a police officer on the street know if a person has mental health problems when he's called by the 911 operator?

Carlos Ponce

"How would a police officer on the street know if a person has mental health problems" Answer: The suspect talks like a Liberal.[wink]

Bailey Jones

They knew in this case.

David Smith

May have something to do with being arrested over 20 times there Don

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