Yet another Bexar County jail inmate dies in custody while held on low bond, criminal trespass charge

Derrick Ellison, 47, died Dec. 5 at hospital hours after suffering “medical episode” at jail

Derrick Ellison (KSAT)

SAN ANTONIO – An inmate held at the Bexar County Jail for nearly half a year on a low level misdemeanor criminal trespassing charge died this month after suffering an apparent medical episode, BCSO officials conceded Friday.

Derrick Ellison, 47, died in the emergency room at University Hospital on Dec. 5, hours after a detention officer found him in his jail cell having trouble breathing.

Ellison, according to BCSO officials, briefly regained consciousness after the episode and was taken to the hospital, where he died about five hours later.

He had been held in jail since his arrest on June 25 for misdemeanor criminal trespassing.

Ellison’s bond amount was set at $1,500, meaning a $150 payment would have likely been all it took to release him on bond.

His cause and manner of death were still pending as of Friday, an official with the Bexar County Medical Examiner’s Office confirmed.

Ellison is at least the third inmate since 2018 to die in custody while being held on a low bond for criminal trespassing.

His death has similarities to the passing of both Janice Dotson-Stephens and Jack Ule.

Dotson-Stephens, who suffered from mental health issues, died in December 2018, five months after she was charged with criminal trespassing. Her bond had been set at $300.

Her health deteriorated while she remained in jail awaiting a psychological evaluation that was ordered months before her death.

A federal jury in January ruled that Bexar County and University Health were not liable for the death of Dotson-Stephens.

Jack Ule, 63, died in April 2019 after detention officers found him unresponsive in his cell.

At the time of his death, Ule had been in custody for weeks on a $500 bond on a criminal trespassing charge.

Janice Dotson-Stephens (left) and Jack Ule (right) died while in the custody of the Bexar County Jail. (KSAT)

The family of Ule settled a subsequent wrongful death lawsuit filed against University Health and Bexar County for a combined $85,000 last year.

Family did not know Ellison was in jail

Ellison’s sister told KSAT Friday that she and his other family members were unaware that he was in jail before his death.

Ellison was arrested twice in four months this year, first in late February on a felony charge of assault against a security officer causing injury and then in late June for refusing to leave the property of an East Side convenience store.

According to arrest records, Ellison was accused of punching a security guard in the shoulder Feb. 27 while in the lobby of the Baptist Medical Center downtown.

Ellison had been admitted to the hospital hours earlier after complaining of chest pains and had become upset towards medical staff after being released, San Antonio police records show.

An hour later, Ellison returned to the lobby of the hospital and punched the guard with a closed fist, according to an SAPD arrest report.

Ellison was detained by security employees until officers arrived. He was released from jail March 9 on a $3,500 bond, court records show.

Ellison was again taken into San Antonio police custody June 25 after repeatedly refusing to leave the front entrance area of a convenience store in the 2500 block of E. Houston Street.

Prior to his arrest, Ellison was seen laying at the front door and was being “rude and aggressive with customers coming into the store,” the SAPD report states.

Ellison was again booked into jail and was held this time on a $1,500 bond.

He was given a court-appointed attorney on June 27, and a psychological evaluation was ordered for Ellison on Aug. 16, case files revealed Friday.

It remains unclear how Ellison was able to post bond in his first case but not in his second case, which had a lower amount to be paid to be released.

Ellison, who had ties to Lockhart and Austin, was diagnosed with a mental illness at age 26, his sister confirmed Friday.

Ellison’s court-appointed attorney, Matthew Brown, told KSAT via telephone he was not told his client passed away until Wednesday and only learned about it then due to “sheer happenstance.”

Brown declined to discuss specific details about the assault or criminal trespassing cases. He said he could not provide background on what contributed to Ellison remaining in jail after his second arrest.

Sheriff Javier Salazar had told KSAT as recently as Tuesday that a large number of inmates are at the jail who should instead be admitted to mental health facilities.

Ellison’s assault charge remained pending Friday, 11 days after his death, court records show.

Per a requirement of the Sandra Bland Act, the Karnes County Sheriff’s Office is investigating Ellison’s in-custody death.

It appears all BCSO policy and procedures were followed while the unit officer assigned to Ellison conducted cell checks, a BCSO spokeswoman confirmed Friday.

Through a spokeswoman, Judge Nelson Wolff declined to comment Friday.

District Attorney Joe Gonzales did not respond to an inquiry about Ellison’s death.

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About the Author:

Emmy-award winning reporter Dillon Collier joined KSAT Investigates in September 2016. Dillon's investigative stories air weeknights on the Nightbeat and on the Six O'Clock News. Dillon is a two-time Houston Press Club Journalist of the Year and a Texas Associated Press Broadcasters Reporter of the Year.