SAN ANTONIO – A 61-year-old man died in the Bexar County Jail Thursday after being arrested on a criminal trespassing charge on Sunday, according to a Bexar County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson.
Stephen Wayne Cole, 61, was discovered unresponsive in his cell by a detention deputy who was doing inmate checks just before 11 p.m. Emergency medical response crews with the San Antonio Fire Department responded to the jail but were unable to revive him, the spokesperson said. Cole, who authorities said did not have an established residence in Bexar County, was pronounced deceased at 11:38 p.m.
Cole was arrested by San Antonio police on Dec. 22 for allegedly trespassing on private property. His bond was set at $400, meaning a $40 payment to a bail bondsman could have sprung him from jail. Cole has previous misdemeanor charges for theft, court records show.
The BCSO spokesperson said “preliminary information indicates” that Cole’s death was due to “an underlying medical condition and chronic narcotics use,” which were “documented on previous incarcerations along with the current incarceration.”
The Bexar County Medical Examiner’s Office told KSAT that a cause of death could not be released at this time.
Cole is at least the third person in their 60s to die at the Bexar County Jail in the last year after being arrested on a criminal trespassing charge and being unable to post a bond of less than $100.
61-year-old Janice Dotson-Stephens died last December after being held for more than five months on the misdemeanor charge, unable to pay $30 to a bail bondsmen to cover her $300 bond. It was her first charge in Bexar County, court records show.
Jack Ule, 63, died in April at the Bexar County Jail. He was arrested on the same charge, criminal trespassing, and stayed in jail for nearly two weeks before guards found him dead in his cell. Ule was arrested after entering University Hospital without the consent of hospital staff.
For Ule, a $50 payment would have been enough to release him on bond. It was his first charge in Bexar County, court records show.
Sheriff Salazar said at the time: “In my opinion, this inmate should not have been in jail. The Adult Detention Center should not be used to house the mentally ill or those who simply cannot afford to pay their way out.”
After Ule’s death, Bexar County District Attorney Joe Gonzales said his office would no longer prosecute people who are charged by police only with criminal trespassing if they are believed to be homeless, aren’t currently on probation or parole and don’t have a history of violence. The policy sought medical attention instead of incarceration for these type of inmates who also have a mental illnesses.
However, the San Antonio Police Officer’s Union pushed back against the policy.
“The District Attorney’s order effectively gives a homeless person, or persons claiming to be homeless, a free pass to infringe on the rights of a business owner or non-residential property owner, by declaring that there will be absolutely no consequences for committing these offenses,” a press release read.
“Bexar County jail has become death row, or the death house, for the mentally ill,” said Leslie Sachanowicz, an attorney for Ule in a suit against Bexar County.