Jury determines Bexar County, University Health not liable in death of mentally ill woman

Janice Dotson-Stephens’ health deteriorated while she was jailed on trespassing charge

SAN ANTONIO – After a weeklong trial, a federal jury decided Bexar County and University Health were not liable for the death of a mentally ill woman who died in jail.

Janice Dotson-Stephens, 61, died in December 2018, roughly five months after she was arrested on a criminal trespassing charge. She was held in jail on a $300 bond.

Her family filed a lawsuit against the county and University Health, who were in charge of her health while she was jailed.

The family was shocked by the ruling, according to their attorney Leslie Sachanowicz.

Dotson-Stephens suffered from mental health issues, which should have been documented due to prior arrests in her past that resulted in mental health detentions, her family alleged.

This time, however, Dotson-Stephens remained in jail while waiting for a psychological evaluation that was ordered months before her death in August 2018, according to the lawsuit. All the while, jail staff and UH officials did not address Dotson-Stephens’ mental health needs, they alleged.

The county and hospital’s attorneys argued that they were unable to care for Dotson-Stephens, who refused to meet with her attorneys, go to court, have her blood pressure taken or accept any other treatment, according to court filings.

Though he was disappointed by the ruling, Sachanowicz said he had a message for the Dotson family.

“I reassured the family that their mother did not pass away in vain,” Sachanowicz told KSAT on Thursday.

Dotson-Stephens’ death, along with the death of other people jailed on minor charges, helped spark reforms in the jail and in the courthouse.

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About the Authors:

John Paul Barajas is a reporter at KSAT 12. Previously, he worked at KRGV 5 in the Rio Grande Valley. He has a degree from the University of Houston. In his free time, he likes to get a workout in, spend time on the water and check out good eats and drinks.