Man killed by 70-year-old veteran he took in off the streets, family says
By ADAM FERRISE | Advance Ohio Media | Published: January 27, 2020
CLEVELAND, Ohio — A 70-year-old veteran of the U.S. Marines who has post-traumatic stress disorder shot and killed a man whose family took him in while he was homeless, according to the victim’s family.
Donald Sebastian shot and killed 30-year old Dalion Mendoza late Sunday in an apartment in Ohio City, according to Cleveland police. Sebastian gunned down Mendoza in front of his longtime girlfriend, Gabriella Miranda, and her 12-year-old daughter, police said.
The shooting was prompted by Sebastian’s increasing annoyance with a loud toilet in the apartment, Miranda said Monday in an interview with cleveland.com.
Sebastian barricaded himself in the apartment after he shot Mendoza and turned the gun on himself and took his own life after Cleveland police surrounded the building, according to police reports and records. Miranda said her 12-year-old daughter wasn’t physically harmed but is shaken.
“It doesn’t seem real,” Miranda said. “This is just devastating. I’m going to be so lost without him.”
Miranda met Mendoza years ago when they attended John Marshall High School in Cleveland together. They were together for more than five years. Mendoza was one of 10 children and spent most of his childhood in-and-out of foster homes.
“That’s why I think he took Donald in,” she said. “He knew what it was like to not have a home or feel wanted.”
She said Mendoza spent most of his free time with his children — ages 13, 9 and 4 — and her 12-year-old daughter, who he raised as his own. He also has a slew of nieces and nephews in his extended family.
“He was a sweet, caring man,” Miranda said. “He was nothing but nice to everyone. He was such a big kid. He watched the Disney Channel shows with the kids and played board games with them. He bought them a Family Feud board game for Christmas.”
‘We just wanted to help get him on his feet’
Sebastian came to live with the couple about a year ago. Mendoza’s friend agreed to let Sebastian stay at his house for 30 days, but kicked him out when the month ran out. Sebastian was estranged from his family, Miranda said, and Mendoza offered to let him live with him.
“He was a very old, crippled Marine vet,” she said. “He had nowhere to go. So Dalion and I let him move in. We just wanted to help him get on his feet.”
A month turned into a year because Sebastian struggled to find a place to live. She said Sebastian was mostly congenially, especially when he took his medication. Other times was a “grouchy old man,” she said.
Miranda said and Mendoza returned home about 10 p.m. Sunday. Sebastian yelled about the noisy toilet, came out of his room and screamed at Mendoza. Before Mendoza could respond, Sebastian pulled out a gun and shot him, she said.
He turned the gun on Miranda, who ran from the home wearing only a bathrobe. A neighbor took her in and called 911. Her 12-year-old daughter remained inside the home with Sebastian. The girl sent several text messages to her aunt, Savannah Miranda, telling her that Mendoza was shot and that Sebastian shut her in her room with her dog.
“She wanted to know where her mom was. She was scared,” Savannah Miranda said.
Savannah Miranda said she raced to the scene to be with her family. She described Mendoza as one of the nicest people she ever met.
“He always put other people before himself, he never complained about anything,” Savannah Miranda said. “He had a really apologetic manner. He never wanted to bother or offend anyone.”
Sebastian’s prior criminal convictions
Court records show that Sebastian had an extensive criminal history that included two federal prison stints. He compiled dozens of arrests in the span of 45-years. Police reports note that he was former Marine veteran who was a current patient at the Louis Stokes Cleveland VA Medical Center.
Judges overseeing his cases dating back at least 25 years ordered that he undergo mental-health treatment as part of his sentences, specifically for “sexual dysfunction” and “sexual deviancy,” court record say.
Sebastian was arrested 29 times from 1975 through 2004, according to Plain Dealer archives, including a 1975 conviction in Summit County for four counts of aggravated robbery. He was arrested in 1993 for possessing a weapon with a felony record and impersonating a police officer.
He pleaded guilty in that case and was sentenced to between two and 15 years in prison.
In 1995, he was sentenced to 46 months in federal prison for possessing a weapon with a felony record. A federal judge ordered him as part of his sentence to undergo out-patient mental health treatment with a therapist who specialized in sexual dysfunction, according to court records.
Sebastian made headlines in 2003 when he pretended to be a U.S. Marshal while stopping drivers in North Royalton and Strongsville under the pretense he was a federal officer. Sebastian, wearing a U.S. Marshals Service cap and shirt, ordered a man who cut him off in traffic to pull over by flashing a retired U.S. Marshals Service badge.
He detained the man and called Strongsville police for backup. He told the officers he was the marshals’ K-9 handler. That agency does not have a K-9 officer.
He told federal investigators that he wanted work in law enforcement, but couldn’t because of his criminal convictions. He told investigators that he was giving back to his community by acting as an officer.
Investigators later determined that he pulled over another driver in North Royalton for tailgating his car, blocked in the other driver’s car and presented himself as a retired U.S. Marshal.
FBI agents searched Sebastian’s home in Middleburg Heights and found 10 U.S. Marshals shirts, a badge and U.S. Marshals Service business cards with his name on them, among other items. Agents also found a folder filled with photos depicting child pornography that Sebastian downloaded and printed from various websites.
He was sentenced to a combined three years in federal prison on the impersonation and child-porn possession charges.
In May 2018, a neighbor reported that Sebastian hit him twice in the face with a Maglite flashlight during an argument over the man’s cat. Sebastian threatened to kill the man and the cat before hitting him, according to police. Sebastian was charged with misdemeanor assault and aggravated menacing but skipped court appearances. A warrant was issued for his arrest.
In March 2019, he called the Mobile Crisis Center hotline and reported having suicidal thoughts, according to police records. Officers were unable to track him down.
A gofundme.com account was set up to help the family pay for Dalion Mendoza’s funeral.