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Battle over deadly conduct arrest, defense of property rights

Protest in support of Coty McDonnell arrested trying to defend neighbor's house

CONVERSE, Texas – Controversy over how people are able to defend their property, or neighbor's property played out at the Bexar County Courthouse Monday night.

The protest stemmed from an arrest made back in October. 

Coty McDonnell said he was protecting his neighbor's home from would-be intruders, but Converse police believe he went too far, so they arrested him. 

A mug shot for Coty McDonnell, was snapped on Oct. 23, the charge written next to it: deadly conduct. 

His neighbor Douglas Sterns said it should have never been taken, so he set up a march through downtown San Antonio on McDonnell's behalf.

"My friend was watching the house. He had a key to the house," Sterns said. 

While Sterns was out of town visiting family, he asked McDonnell to keep watch, citing a rash of recent burglaries in the neighborhood. After midnight on Oct. 23, McDonnell reported seeing something suspicious.

"A car approaching my house with its headlights off. They were heading straight up my driveway," Sterns said.  

Converse Police Chief Fidel Villegas said after a thorough investigation, his officers did not find any evidence supporting trespassing.

"We don't have anything that showed they would have gone onto that property, anything going across the yard or into the garage, anything like that we didn't see that. We didn't find evidence of that," Villegas said. 

Both Sterns and Converse police agree on what happened next, though. McDonnell went to his house, got an AR 15, got in his truck and followed the car full of what turned out to be at least four teenagers. 

"When they saw Coty they said, 'Oh s*** somebody's here.' Got back in the car, drove down the street and stopped six houses down," Sterns said. 

McDonnell and another neighbor called 911, then barricaded the street so the teens' car couldn't move. 

The big disagreement lies here: "There was no gunshots, there was not pointing the gun at anybody. He had the gun down in the ready position," Sterns said. 

However, Chief Villegas said, "When he pursued them got out of his truck and pointed the AR 15 at a couple of the occupants and he was arrested for deadly conduct."

Villegas also said the laws that protect people defending property stopped applying when McDonnell left the property and followed the car down the street. 

"Those protections come at the home, and they come only if those people were threatened, or property was being stolen for example, burglary, robbery. There's many crimes that would make that defense attach," he said. 

It is yet another debated part of the incident. Sterns believes his neighbor should have still been protected under the law. 

"Texas Penal Code 9.43 does not say a crime has to be actually consummated. It has to be attempted.  So they had reasonable suspicion to believe that something was about to happen," he said.

McDonnell was originally charged with both deadly conduct and unlawful restraint, but back in November the unlawful restraint charge was dropped. 

Bexar County records show a jury trial for the misdemeanor charge is set to begin Tuesday, May 16. 

McDonnell and his supporters have tried to get the case dropped and Monday's march was yet another plea. 

In response to the protest march, Villegas said, "We in Converse have many, many armed residents and our department is known here to be pro-Second Amendment and we’re pro teaching people about the right to bear arms and what legally they can do to use force. We have a Citizen Police Academy and we encourage people to come to it and learn and ask us questions." 

For more information on the Citizen Police Academy, call Converse police at 210-658-2322.

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