Family of woman who died in Texas jail files wrongful death lawsuit

(CNN) — The family of a woman who died after being held for five months in a Texas jail has filed a wrongful death lawsuit, according to attorney Les Sachanowicz.

During a press conference Thursday, Sachanowicz said the lawsuit filed on behalf of the family of Janice Dotson-Stephens names three defendants: Bexar County, Bexar County hospital district, and the Bexar County pretrial services. The family believes these entities are responsible for violating the civil rights of Dotson-Stephens and, ultimately, contributing to her death.

CNN reached out to the defendants in the lawsuit. Monica Ramos, public Information officer for Bexar County, said the county hasn’t received notice of the lawsuit. “We cannot comment at this time,” Ramos said.

A sheriff’s office spokesperson deferred all questions to the district attorney. CNN reached out to the district attorney and to Bexar Hospital District and has not heard back.

Dotson-Stephens, 61, was arrested on July 18 in Bexar County and charged with criminal trespassing. Her family was unaware of her arrest until it was time for them to collect the body.

The sheriff’s office said Dotson-Stephens died of natural causes. According to the Bexar County Medical Examiner’s Office, the cause of death was atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease, or coronary artery disease. They also listed schizoaffective disorder, a chronic mental health condition characterized by symptoms of schizophrenia, as a contributing factor.

Michelle Dotson, Dotson-Stephens’ daughter, said at the press conference that her mother had been arrested in the past, but usually underwent a medical evaluation at the jail and then went to a mental health facility. However, this time Dotson’s mother was listed under an incorrect name and her family was unable to find her. She also says her mother was never sent to a mental health facility.

“There was some negligence, we don’t know where it fell,” Dotson said.

According to court records, Dotson-Stephens waived a hearing on July 23 and refused to be interviewed several times after her arrest. In August, she was ordered to undergo a psychiatric evaluation after she refused to appear in court. Her case status shows she was awaiting that evaluation.

“What we’re convinced is that their mom was ignored to death … there was a culture of deliberate indifference for her and other inmates,” Sachanowicz said. “We believe there’s been violations of the Sandra Bland Act.”

The death is being investigated by the Converse Police Department as part of the Sandra Bland Act. That act mandates an independent law enforcement agency investigate the death of an inmate in jail. It also directs county jails to send people with mental illness and substance abuse issues toward treatment options.

“Right now we just want answers, it’s devastating, I know that my mother was mentally ill, but she was our mother, and she was a good mother,” Dotson said.

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