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.”