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Two men plead guilty to burglarizing Arlee Schools

by Jeff Smith/For the Leader
| May 9, 2024 12:00 AM

A pair of Arlee men have admitted to breaking into the Arlee Elementary School and stealing items. Donovan Chase McDonald, 28 entered a plea of guilty to burglary and criminal mischief Polson District Court May 1. Michael Junior Garza, 42, pleaded guilty to burglary during his arraignment hearing May 2.

McDonald was initially charged with an additional count of theft. A plea agreement calls for the theft charge to be dismissed and for the defendant to pay restitution of $10,000. A suspended commitment to the Montana Department of Corrections is also a possibility, according to Lake County Attorney James Lapotka.

Garza’s plea was also part of an agreement that calls for $1,000 restitution and a 10-year suspended DOC commitment. McDonald’s case is before Judge Molly Owen while Garza’s is before visiting Judge Amy Eddy of Flathead County. Neither judge is bound to the agreement.

According to court records, on Oct. 19, 2020, Lt. Levi Read with the Lake County Sheriff’s Office responded to a burglary report at the Arlee Schools. There, he investigated the theft of a catalytic converter, which had been cut off of the exhaust system of a school bus. Wires and other cables were also cut or ripped away from the bus.

Lt. Read located the stolen bus part at the Axman in Missoula two days later. The 87-pound part had been sold as scrap metal for $1.74 per pound. Repairs to the bus were estimated at approximately $7,000.

McDonald was also linked, via video surveillance, to a burglary at the Arlee Elementary School. McDonald and another man, later identified as Garza, appear in the video surveillance approaching the school on bikes at 12:45 a.m. June 6, 2023. McDonald can be seen carrying a pipe, or crowbar in his hand.

The video also shows Garza take several backpacks and place them in a garbage bag. The next day, a child at the school was bragging to other students about her new shoes. The shoes matched the description of a pair of shoes taken the night before.

The girl reportedly told other children that her father, Garza, gave her the new shoes and that he had a lot of backpacks. Lt. Read was granted a search warrant for the residences of both McDonald and Garza. McDonald was still wearing the same clothes he was wearing in the surveillance video.

Judge Owen set McDonald’s sentencing for June 12. Garza’s sentencing was set for June 13, and likely in front of John Mercer, who has applied to serve as interim District Court judge. Both McDonald and Garza are at liberty.