CEDAR PARK (KXAN) – Nearly a year before Joseph Desean Taylor allegedly shot three police officers and held his family hostage in their Cedar Park home, Taylor’s mother sought mental health help after a domestic disturbance at their house, according to Williamson County District Attorney Shawn Dick and court records.

In that September 2019 incident, police said Taylor’s mother arrived at the police station and said her son Joseph Taylor, 25 years old at the time, had strangled a young sibling.

“Mr. Taylor’s mother had gone to the police really seeking help, mental health treatment, for her son, but what she described was a criminal offense,” Dick said in an interview with KXAN.

According to records from 2019, she said Taylor had been diagnosed with manic-depressive disorder, anxiety and had been acting verbally aggressive and abusive toward family members since he had come to the home four weeks earlier, according to an arrest affidavit.

Joseph Desean Taylor mug shot from September 2019 (Austin Police Department Photo)
Joseph Desean Taylor mug shot from September 2019 (Cedar Park Police Department Photo)

Taylor was charged with one count of felony assault on a family member. Two days after this arrest, an emergency protective order was filed in Williamson County prohibiting him from stalking or harassing the family, possessing a firearm, communicating directly with the family or going within 200 yards of the family’s home or the victim’s workplace, according to the order.

“Criminal proceedings began, and that was not what his mother had intended, and so she had signed an affidavit of non-prosecution wanting charges to be dropped,” Dick said. “She actually went a step further and actually refused to cooperate in the prosecution.”

Court records show the prosecutor on the case dropped the charges, noting the evidence in the case was “insufficient to sustain a conviction.”

“They wanted to get mental health treatment. They weren’t looking to put him in prison,” Dick explained. “I think most families with a family member that suffering from mental health issues –their number one priority and their number one goal is to get mental health assistance.”

Jarrod Smith, a defense attorney with Smith & Vinson, represents clients in domestic violence cases often. He said many incidents involve someone in mental health crisis.

“Mental health is something that needs to be addressed more in every city in Texas — Austin, Williamson County, everywhere. It is a mess. It’s underfunded,” he said. “I think a lot of these problems, a lot of these arrests would not happen. A lot of these incidents wouldn’t even happen if we were addressing the mental health the way we should, and we are just not.”

He said sometimes family members don’t understand the criminal process that happens after they call police.

“Many times they think the police are going to come out and basically just separate everybody — say, ‘Go to a hotel’ or whatever. They are usually surprised when someone gets arrested,” Smith explained.

Smith noted that in many cases law enforcement is necessary, but the best outcome would be to get someone the resources they need before the situation escalates, launching someone into criminal justice system.

“I mean, the wheels are in motion at that point, and these cases could last anywhere from six months to two years,” he said. “They are very draining on families.”

The emergency protective order filed after Taylor’s 2019 arrest expired a few months later in November. Smith said those types of orders are standard after a domestic violence incident, to give a victim time to go to the county attorney or court system and file a more lasting order of protection, if they chose.

Dick told KXAN the prosecutor handling Taylor’s 2019 case is an expert in mental health cases. She handles most of the cases coming through the court docket they have dedicated to people suffering from mental health crises.

“They work together with Bluebonnet Trails and a lot of other mental health providers,” he explained.

He said sometimes they will still pursue a case on behalf of the State, even if the family is not cooperating because they have to evaluate whether other individuals are at risk.

“Is there anyone else apparently in danger or was this all within the family? Are the individuals involved… in a sufficient position to protect themselves and take care of themselves? Is there a protective home environment for the people that were involved? So, you will look at a lot of factors,” he said, noting that’s what the mental health prosecutor did at the time when the charges were dropped in 2019.

Dick told KXAN they believed Taylor was getting mental health assistance in Houston after the case was dismissed.