Robert Freiberger via Flickr creative commons
Coty McDonnell took housesitting for his neighbor very seriously. So much so that at around midnight on October 23, he was standing watch when a silver Volkswagen Jetta pulled up to the house and saw a couple of teenagers exit the car. McDonnell's immediate response, according to Converse Police Department records, was to run to the garage and grab his AR-15 assault rifle, locked and loaded with a 30-round magazine. One of the kids muttered "oh shit" when he saw McDonnell, got back inside the car, and they took off down the block. The teens would later tell police they saw McDonnell standing near a tree on the property, his rifle trained on the car.
McDonnell put his gun in his truck and chased after the teenagers, who say they were just looking for a party in the neighborhood and were stopping, switching drivers and turning around when McDonnell spotted them. One of McDonnell's neighbors was evidently also on watch that night. According to a police report, the neighbor jumped into his car and sped around the block to try to cut the kids off. McDonnell and his neighbor, according to police records, managed to pin the teenagers in at the end of the block. The driver of the Volkswagen told police that McDonnell then got out of his car, pointed his assault rifle at them, and asked why they were "acting a fool on his street." They thought McDonnell was going to kill them if police didn't show up soon.
McDonnell, according to police records, maintains he had his rifle pointed at the teenagers “to make sure nothing went crazy until the police arrived.”
Police who arrived to calm the situation found a small amount of pot on the teenagers, some of whom were charged with misdemeanor possession of drug paraphernalia, issued citations, and then released. McDonnell, however, was arrested on a deadly conduct charge for chasing down and pulling a gun on a group of teenagers who were unlucky enough to have gotten lost in his neighborhood while he was on watch.
It's a charge McDonnell appears determined to fight. While his attorney, Daniel De La Garza, wouldn't return our calls and emails for comment, he told the Express-News
earlier this week that the charge should be dismissed, and that McDonnell was just trying to protect his property as allowed by Texas law.
The incident happens in a state that has in many ways pushed the envelope when it comes to using deadly force to protect person and property – a state where taco truck owners can shoot people who try to steal a $20 tip jar
, where a store clerk is deemed justified in killing someone who tried to swipe a twelve-pack of beer.
Look no further than Bexar County to see how Texas' self- and property-defense laws have been pushed to the limit.
It was just 2013 that a Bexar County jury acquitted Ezekiel Gilbert of murder in the death of 23-year-old Lenora Ivy Frago, a sex worker who met Gilbert, took his $150, for undetermined reasons decided she didn't want to have sex with him, and was then shot in the neck when she tried to leave with his money. Gilbert's defense strategy was rooted in a law that's apparently pretty unique to Texas
: citizens can use deadly force to prevent someone “who is fleeing immediately after committing burglary, robbery, aggravated robbery, or theft during the nighttime from escaping with the property.”
It's unclear if McDonnell's lawyer will pursue some version of that defense – that maybe he thought
the teenagers had stolen something and he was just trying to keep the burglars from fleeing. The neighbor for whom he was housesitting, Doug Stearns, justified McDonnell's actions by telling the E-N
that their subdivision has not only seen a rash of burglaries, but that a local elementary school was even vandalized recently. Stearns called the charge against McDonnell "ridiculous" and told the daily, “If someone is coming toward your house in the middle of the night, are you going to stop and ask them if they’re 18?"
Converse assistant police chief Rex Rheiner, when contacted by the Current
this week, didn't say anything about a burglary problem in the neighborhood. But Stearns' concern about neighborhood vandalism apparently isn't unfounded: On Halloween, Judson ISD police arrested two ninth-grade boys and one eighth-grade girl for breaking into a nearby elementary school
and covering some classrooms in spray paint, watercolors, honey and flour.
De Le Garza, McDonnell's attorney, told the E-N
that the charges against his client make him "reluctant to protect my property" and says he wants prosecutors to dismiss the case and give McDonnell back his gun. (McDonnell was charged with another charge of false imprisonment that has already been dropped, according to available court records.)
Rheiner, meanwhile, dismisses any claims of self- or property-defense in this case. "When you go after somebody with a gun, you’re putting yourself out the window on that one," he said. "You have the chance to flee from harm and you’re basically creating a potentially deadly incident instead.” Rheiner says he has "great respect for the Second Amendment," but added, "when you go out there pointing guns at people, even if you have the right to carry under the Second Amendment, you don't have the right to break the law.”