Judge dismisses parts of lawsuit filed by family of mentally ill woman who died in Bexar County Jail

A judge has dismissed multiple parts of a federal lawsuit filed by the family of a 61-year-old mentally ill woman who died in Bexar County jail after losing 136 pounds.

In a ruling released last week, U.S. District Judge Royce Lamberth granted partial summary judgment for Bexar County and the University Health System, meaning parts of the lawsuit against them were dismissed. rejected.

However, he allowed other parts of the lawsuit to proceed, including allegations that Bexar County and University Health violated Janice Dotson-Stephens’ right to medical care.

These allegations will likely be decided in a civil trial, unless the parties settle the lawsuit privately before then.

Dotson-Stephens, who was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder and schizophrenia, was arrested in July 2018 on a misdemeanor felony trespass charge and held in jail on $300 bond.

Because she had a history of mental health issues, she was placed in the prison infirmary, where staff noted her erratic behavior and refusal to eat.

Jail records, cited in the lawsuit, say Dotson-Stephens refused meals at least 102 times — although attorneys representing Bexar County argue jail staff left trays of food for Dotson — Stephens, so it’s possible she ate some after they left.

By the time of her death five months later, she had lost 136 pounds, the lawsuit says. The Bexar County Medical Examiner’s Office ruled that she died of cardiovascular disease, caused by schizoaffective disorder.

The Dotson-Stephens case has drawn national attention and raised concerns about the inequities of cash bail: how it often leaves poor defendants behind bars awaiting trial while those with money are free.

It also sparked changes within Bexar County’s indigent defense system, as it’s unclear if Dotson-Stephens, who had four children and 10 grandchildren, ever met with his court-appointed attorney during of the five months she spent in prison.

Starting this month, a new program will oversee indigent defense in Bexar County, replacing a disjointed system of court-appointed private attorneys. Critics of the old system say too many private lawyers take on more cases than they can handle, leaving clients languishing in jail.

“Quite frankly, I don’t blame them for the trial,” Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff said in 2019. “I don’t think we handled it well.”

Chain of Death

Dotson-Stephens’ death preceded several other high-profile deaths at the Bexar County Adult Detention Center.

Fernando Macias, who was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder and delusional disorder, died in Bexar County Jail on December 16, 2018, two days after Dotson-Stephens.

A lawsuit filed by his family alleged that Macias, also 61, had lost more than 100 pounds and developed pressure sores. He also alleged that he was dehydrated, malnourished and suffering from hypothermia. His oxygen levels were dangerously low and he had not received dialysis for chronic kidney disease in months, the lawsuit says.

Another man, Jack Ule, 63, died in prison about four months later. Ule, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, had been charged with a class B misdemeanor of criminal trespass. His bond was $500.

The three families filed lawsuits against Bexar County and University Health, which provides health care in the jail.

Ule’s family settled their lawsuit with the county and University Health for $85,000. The lawsuit filed by Macias’ family remains open.

Specifically, Dotson-Stephens’ family alleged that Bexar County and University Health violated her right to medical care and failed to protect her from cruel and unusual punishment.

The lawsuit named several other defendants, including Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar, University Health Director Jessica Yao, Bexar County Pretrial Services Director Mike Lozito, San Antonio Police Officer Michael Kohlleppel and the city of San Antonio.

In his decision last week, Lamberth excluded Salazar, Lozito, Kohlleppel and the city of San Antonio from the lawsuit.

The lawsuit also alleged that the string of jail deaths showed Bexar County exhibited a “widespread pattern” of not “maintaining minimum standards.” The judge denied this request.

However, Lamberth allowed other claims — like one that alleges Bexar County and University Health violated the Americans with Disabilities Act.

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