Homeless man blamed for wreaking havoc in South Austin neighborhood explains actions

*UPDATE* The Austin Police Department says it has opened an investigation. FOX 7 Austin's Meredith Aldis says Rami Zawaideh is facing a 3rd-degree felony charge.


A homeless man blamed for wreaking havoc in a South Austin neighborhood explained his actions. Residents said he uses a chainsaw and machete to cut down trees in the middle of the night and now he’s taking a sledgehammer to city property.

Residents in the Westgate Neighborhood said the chainsaw-slinging tree chopper is back.

"It’s just migrated to another part of the neighborhood," Westgate resident J.J. Pepper said.

Now, he’s near Cherry Creek Drive and Westgate Boulevard. Residents said Rami Zawaideh has taken a sledgehammer to city property. The Watershed Protection Department placed the boulders there a few months ago to avoid people from driving into the riparian zone.

This level of escalation with the boulders is just really worrisome, this is our community, we have a walking trail 10 feet away from us here, we really can’t have this happen," Cherry Creek resident Frankie Hefley said.

Hefley said a neighbor jogging saw Zawaideh breaking the boulders and asked him to stop. Now, a message is written on the sidewalk saying, "Hey tough guy jogger, I’ll be back tonight or the night after FYI."

Mental health is obviously an issue, and we just don’t know when he’s going to snap and take it to another level," Hefley said.

"We’ve tried to make it a place where families can come, and we’ve succeeded at that. It’s been that way for several years now and to have that threatened is really disturbing," Cherry Creek Community Garden Site Director Terry Southwell said.

Zawaideh is known for doing other things like throwing a machete up on a post inside the Cherry Creek Community Garden, spray painting boulders, building sculptures, and yelling early in the morning.

"Screaming, cussing, and if it’s not directly under the bridge, it’s somewhere down in the creek so it’s like where is it coming from which is kind of just unsettling," Pepper said.

Residents said they’ve been dealing with it for about six months and want something to be done.

"There’s got to be something that a professional can do in regard to helping, but this person needs to be removed and rehabilitated so they can be put back into society, because they’re just unwell," Pepper said.

"When he is arrested and it gets to the court level, something needs to be done there because basically it’s dropping at the court level, charges are being dropped," Hefley said.

After talking with residents, Zawaideh rode up on his bicycle. He didn’t want to be filmed, but he agreed to talk with FOX 7 to explain why he does what he does. Zawaideh said he’s been working on those boulders for the last three nights and he’s taking out satanism. He said the reason he made the sculptures about two months ago was because the homeowner across the street is a satanist and he wanted to present his work in front of the neighbor’s house.

The Watershed Protection Department said they’re aware of the situation and are assessing the damage. They said they’re working with the Austin Police Department to file a criminal mischief report. APD said they’re monitoring the area.

Court records show Zawaideh has two active misdemeanor cases for criminal trespassing and prosecutors declined to pursue three other misdemeanors.