Court records confirm that an inmate who died while in the custody of the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office on Friday had been held in jail on a $300 bond since July.
According to KSAT, 61-year-old Janice Dotson-Stephens was arrested July 17 on a criminal charge of trespassing on private property.
The misdemeanor charge was reportedly her first arrest.
KSAT reports, Dotson-Stephens seemingly died of natural causes.
Officials have not said why Dotson-Stephens stayed in the jail so long, since most bail bond companies require a 10 percent payment to bail you out. Meaning Dotson-Stephens could have been set free for just $30.
Dotson-Stephens reportedly refused to be interviewed about her case the day after she was arrested and again for four straight days in late July, KSAT reports. She refused once again on Aug. 4.
On Aug. 8, a court-appointed attorney was assigned to her case, and when she refused to make a court appearance on Aug. 17, she was ordered to go through a psychological evaluation on Aug. 27.
Family members said they were unaware Dotson-Stephens was in jail. They say they thought she was being treated at a state hospital.
Dotson-Stephens’ daughter-in-law, Leticia Dotson, told KSAT that she and her husband were devastated to find out that Dotson-Stephens had died in jail.
“We just felt that she shouldn’t have died as a criminal in the jailhouse,”Dotson said. “She wasn’t a criminal. She had mental health illness.”
Dotson told the station that her mother-in-law had a history of mental illness. She said that in previous encounters with police, Dotson-Stephens was evaluated and transferred to the state hospital.
Dotson said that none of her mother-in-law’s family members had been contacted, something she thinks could have saved her life.
“If it changed and we had to bail her out before the process of getting her to the state hospital, we would have done that,” Dotson said.
“She had people who loved her and family who would have easily paid the $30 to get her out of jail if that’s what we had to do to take the next step,” she added.
Dotson told KSAT that she hopes the staff at the Bexar County Jail and at the state hospital will improve communication with families so this will not happen to someone else’s loved one.
“If your family has a mental illness, it’s not in their control,” she said. “She shouldn’t die as a criminal. They should die as, ‘This person had a mental illness and this is what happened.’”
The situation has caught the attention of California Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris, who tweeted about it Tuesday morning.
“A woman was held in jail for six months because she couldn’t afford to pay her $300 bond. She just died in custody. This is tragic and exactly why we need to reform our money bail system,” Harris wrote.
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