Austin’s revolving door of arrests underscores the need for mental health services

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin police have arrested the same man nearly a dozen times this year alone. Since 2019, he has been arrested about 20 times — with court records showing that two of those arrests resulted in prison terms.

Most of these are property crimes such as burglary, theft and criminal trespass.

KXAN first reported on Marion Osborne on Oct. 27 when police arrested him in connection with a burglary at the Royal Blue Grocery downtown on Red River Street.

Travis County jail records show police arrested him on another felony charge on Nov. 2, an indication that Osborne was released days after the Oct. 27 arrest.

Since late August, court documents show a string of arrests just weeks apart.

  • August 24
  • September 2
  • September 21
  • September 28
  • October 13
  • October 27
  • November 2

Looking at the summary of his cases, most statuses read “prosecution dismissed”, “no charges filed” and “dismissed”.

“There are multiple findings from a court that he was incompetent,” District Attorney Jose Garza said when KXAN asked why this continues to happen.

He said the courts had also decided it was unlikely Osborne would ever be competent to stand trial and because he could not face a jury – prosecutors could not charge him and therefore could not legally hold him in the arrest.

“If a person doesn’t have the mental capacity to stand trial, our jails don’t have room for people with mental illness,” Garza said.

Travis County Mental Health Public Defenders Director Melissa Shearer said she could not comment directly on Osborne’s case because of attorney-client privilege, but provided the following general context.

When people are incompetent to stand trial and unlikely to recover, little role remains for the criminal justice system. The Constitution prevents a person from being prosecuted without “sufficient present ability to consult the person’s attorney with a reasonable degree of rational understanding or rational as well as factual understanding of the proceedings against the person.”

The ability of a person with serious mental illness to regain competence deteriorates over time with repeated episodes, inconsistent treatment, and living conditions that are not conducive to health.

If a person who is incompetent and unlikely to recover is an imminent danger to himself or others, there are some limited options for hospital civil commitment. All of these options require waiting lists.

Director Melissa Shearer, Travis County Community Mental Health Advocates

The district attorney’s office, which handled proceedings related to Osborne’s crimes, added that “individuals who have been declared incompetent by a medical professional are constitutionally barred from prosecution. We are working with community stakeholders to find impactful solutions to a system that has unfairly turned our county jail into the largest provider of mental health services in our community.

All three legal experts pointed to the lack of mental health resources available in the jail and court systems, so KXAN reached out to Dr. Steven Strakowski, who is currently working on ways to bring such resources to Travis County.

“We had a serious problem with insufficient resources for mental health care,” he said.

He said part of the problem is how understaffed and overcrowded state psychiatric hospitals are. But he also pointed to the need for community resources that can intervene before people reach the point of needing state facilities.

“Some people stuck in these cycles don’t really need clinical interventions at the hospital level. In Texas and across this country, we have underinvested in the community support that is needed,” Strakowski said.

Strakowski, Garza and the District Attorney’s Office said they are currently looking for a long-term solution to this problem.

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