Homeless man back in Austin neighborhood after DA rejects felony charges

A homeless man is back in a Southwest Austin neighborhood intimidating residents, cutting down trees, and screaming at all hours of the day after the District Attorney rejected felony charges against him. 

Residents are desperate for change and said they want their neighborhood back to some sort of normalcy.

"One morning there is a guy with an ax just screaming violent profanity and chopping on trees and I called the police," Westgate neighborhood resident James Murff said.

Murff said that was about five years ago and his first encounter with Rami Zawaideh in the Westgate neighborhood. Since then, Zawaideh has been wreaking havoc.

FOX 7 Austin first started reporting on Zawaideh in November when residents said he was cutting down trees in the Greenbelt and screaming at all hours of the night.

"It’s really odd times and just chopping, and a saw going off, and then you’ll wake up or come back home and then there’s just more of these weird monolithic structures and just stacks of what I believe to be Greenbelt trees," Westgate neighborhood resident JJ Pepper said.


In January, residents said Zawaideh took a sledgehammer to city property.

"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 neighborhood resident Frankie Hefley said.

Zawaideh was charged with felony criminal mischief and a warrant was issued for his arrest. On January 26, court records show he had an order of commitment. Last month, the Travis County District Attorney rejected the felony charges.

"He is doing things that are not supposed to be allowed. I'd like for those things to be followed up upon whether it's him camping, at least in a place you're not supposed to be camping, or digging giant holes, or cutting trees. None of those things are supposed to be allowed. Whatever the legal consequences of that are, like very least, that seems fair," Murff said.

Zawaideh has been arrested in Travis County six times in less than a year and all the cases have been dismissed or rejected. Murff said this is an example of a bigger problem in this city.

"I understand the cops are not going to arrest them because they also know it won't be prosecuted. It will be the DA will evaluate it and do whatever decision the DA does, which generally means not prosecuting and not holding people accountable, so we've got a huge issue there as well," Murff said.

Zawaideh is now back at it in a different spot. He has set up camp near a trail where Murff and his wife walk their dogs.

"Every time we'd walk by he'd start yelling at this imaginary friend that he calls Polly and he says, ‘hey, Polly, where do you bury all those bodies? How many murders have you got?’ and all this stuff and just yelling and we always felt like it was sort of for effect to intimidate us," Murff said.

Murff said something needs to be done.

"I think most people would say he's living in not great conditions and he's struggling with a lot of things and what we all want is for him not to be struggling, but there's also a point at which you just, you got to be held responsible for it," Murff said. 

"The idea of locking him up is not great, but also, we do sometimes lock people up because they're a danger either to others or to themselves. I'm hesitant to say that that's a desired outcome, but if the people who are in a position to evaluate him determine that is the best outcome for him or the appropriate outcome for him, I'm ok with that at this point. What's going on now is not sustainable."

The District Attorney has not given FOX 7 Austin an update on this case.