BCSO placed teen inmate in solitary confinement against recommendations of medical staff

Teen voiced, acted on suicidal ideations while in custody

By Mariah Medina - Digital Journalist, Dillon Collier - Investigative Reporter, Tim Gerber - Reporter/Anchor

SAN ANTONIO - A statement from University Health System released Thursday further calls into question the Bexar County Sheriff's Office's handling of a 19-year-old female inmate who attempted suicide inside the jail over the weekend.

Elizabeth Allen, a spokeswoman for University Health System, said the teenage inmate was placed in solitary confinement against the recommendations of UHS staff. The inmate was found hanging from a bedsheet in solitary around 11 p.m. Saturday.

UHS is the primary healthcare provider for the Bexar County Jail.

The teenage inmate, who was arrested on a misdemeanor charge July 6, told jail officials when she was booked that she would kill herself "first chance she got." And on July 18, while in custody at the jail, she drank cleaning supplies in an apparent attempt to harm herself, the Sheriff's Office confirmed. Johnny Garcia, a spokesman for the Sheriff's Office, said the July 18 incident required the inmate to be hospitalized but that she was placed in general population after she was released from the hospital.

RELATED: 19-year-old inmate on life support after suicide attempt at Bexar County Jail 

Despite her apparent suicidal tendencies, the Sheriff's Office confirmed that the teenager was not on suicide watch when she was found hanging in her cell. She remains on life support at Downtown Baptist Hospital.

Two days after the suicide attempt, when asked why the 19-year-old wasn't on suicide watch, Garcia said the agency was following recommendations from University Health System staff.

"This inmate was provided mental health and medical treatment during her incarceration," Garcia said Monday. "In each instance where this inmate displayed suicidal ideations, jail staff involved University Health Systems staff and adhered to the recommendations of their doctors."

RELATED: Inmate, 19, said she'd kill herself 'first chance she got.' But wasn't on suicide watch. Why? 

The Sheriff's Office said it was unable to go into detail about the inmate's "specific medical history."

UHS, however, disputed that account Thursday, releasing the following statement:

"It is our understanding that (the inmate) was placed in a solitary confinement/lock down unit by the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office. This decision was contrary to the recommendations of UHS staff. Unfortunately we cannot comment further due to privacy concerns of (the inmate) in order to honor her protected health information."

The teenager spent 22 days in jail after authorities said she made a terroristic threat against her aunt's home where she stayed, Bexar County District Attorney Joe Gonzales said. She was subsequently discharged from custody July 27 after an application for compassionate release was filed on her behalf.

"Compassionate releases are only requested during anticipatory grief situations in order to provide family members unencumbered access to their loved one," Garcia said Sunday.

Online court records show the teen was held in jail for more than three weeks on an $800 bail, meaning she likely could have been released for $80.

RELATED: Teenage inmate drank cleaning supplies, was hospitalized days before suicide attempt 

Sources said the 19-year-old was in foster care and may have aged out of the system, leaving her with few advocates and relatives to come to her aid.

Gonzales told the Defenders on Monday that the day before the woman's suicide attempt, the prosecutor on the woman's case had discussed the possibility of releasing her on a personal recognizance bond but her attorney had expressed concerns about what would come after.

"My understanding is the court prosecutor conferred with the defense lawyer and made available several options, including the potential for a PR bond," Gonzales said. "(The defense attorney's) response was that he was not ready to accept an offer of a PR bond and wanted to confer with her to talk with her about the possibility of being released on a PR bond.

"My understanding is that (her attorney) was concerned because she was homeless that she would be out on the street."

KSAT reached out to her attorney for comment Monday, but has so far not received a response.

Gonzales agreed that, ultimately, someone outside his office may have dropped the ball.

"Apparently there were some red flags, and someone should've caught this at the magistrate level. Someone should have been alerted to the fact that she indicated that she had at least thought about suicide, and so that is a concern of mine," he said. 

Gonzales also defended his prosecutor's handling of the case, stating that the magistrate prosecutor made the right call in not agreeing to the issuance of a PR bond for an individual with suicidal tendencies who is also charged with making a terroristic threat against relatives.

"I wish that someone had alerted the right authorities to deal with this," Gonzales said of the woman's mental health issues. "But I'm confident that my employees did the appropriate thing."

BCSO spokesman Deputy Johnny Garcia released the following statement Thursday night:

On several occasions during this inmate’s incarceration, she was approved in each instance by University Health Systems (UHS) staff to house in general population. She was also approved by UHS staff to house in Emergency Management Intensive Supervision status for her disruptive behavior. Such was the case leading up to her suicide attempt. She had been approved by UHS staff to house in Administrative Segregation due to her continuous pattern of disruptive behavior. Over the course of 12 days and due to the inmate’s actions, she was remanded to the care of UHS staff on 3 separate incidents, with each time having been cleared by UHS. Throughout her entire incarceration BCSO Jail staff adhered and abided by the recommendations of UHS staff.

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