Travis County constable to testify at legislature about need for mental health treatment beds

A Travis County constable responded after residents in the West Gate neighborhood of South Austin said a man has been using a chainsaw and machete to cut down trees in the middle of the night, and took a sledgehammer to city property.

Residents in the Westgate community said Rami Zawaideh has been chopping down trees, breaking city property, making sculptures, threatening residents, and screaming early in the morning.

Zawaideh told FOX 7 he’s been doing all this to "take out satanism."

"There’s nothing happening in the woods, we’re a pretty calm, chill neighborhood," Westgate Resident J.J. Pepper said.

Residents have been calling for action for about six months, wanting him out of their neighborhood.


"This person seeing things, so God knows what they could do to someone that they don’t see because they’re seeing something else," Pepper said.

Travis County Constable Precinct 3 Stacy Suits said when a person becomes a danger to themselves or others, they’ll do an emergency commitment for a psychiatric evaluation and be held and receive treatment for 72 hours.

Suits said Zawaideh has been on their radar since at least April, and he’s been picked up before and taken to a facility, but he escaped.

"It wasn’t a voluntary agreement for him to leave that facility," Suits said.

Since, Zawaideh has been arrested, and he’s out on bond.

Suits said Zawaideh needs to be in a treatment facility and prosecutors need to make a motion for an involuntary commitment, but there’s also no where for him to go.

"If there’s no long-term treatment beds, then we’re kind of wasting our time here," Suits said.

On Thursday, Jan. 26, court records showed Zawaideh was arrested on Jan. 25 on a criminal mischief charge. The court issued an order of commitment and a $7,500 bond.

Suits said there are no medical treatment beds available in Austin and the waitlist in Texas for people with mental illness and people with intellectual disabilities to get a bed is 2,500 people.

"Putting them in jail is not going to solve the problem, they need housing, and they need treatment," Suits said.

Suits said he plans to testify at the legislature in February and use this case as an example to show the need for mental health treatment beds.

"With the Texas legislature sitting on 33 billion that a substantial chunk of that should be put back into the mental health facilities," Suits said.

Residents said they hope this is a step in the right direction.

"It’s very clear that there is a problem here in Austin and unless we take steps to take something about it as these people are doing, which makes me very, very hopeful, otherwise we’re going to end up like Portland, otherwise we’re going to end up like these cities that people are flocking away from to live here," Pepper said.

Suits said if Zawaideh is actively threatening with a knife or machete, call 911. Since the last report aired on FOX 7 about Zawaideh, a criminal mischief report has been filed. No word on if he’s been arrested again.