Family tries to understand how mom was jailed for 5 months and died before they knew she was there

A woman held on a $300 bond for five months died Friday in a Texas jail, and the 61-year-old’s family was unaware she had been arrested until it was time for them to collect the body.

Janice Dotson-Stephens had been arrested on July 18 in Bexar County and charged with criminal trespassing. Her daughter, Michelle Dotson, said the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office did not have a next of kin listed for her mother. “We asked about her being in jail for so long. We are still getting clarity on the chain of events,” she said.

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.

Dotson-Stephen’s daughter said her mother had a history of mental illness and had been arrested before. “There was a cycle that repeated itself. She’d be fine. She’d be on her meds. Then something would happen, and she would go off her meds,” Michelle Dotson said. “She would maybe leave or disappear. There were times she may have ended up in jail. But usually, they would do a psychiatric evaluation and take her to the state hospital.”

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.

The act is named for Sandra Bland, who died in 2015 after being found hanging from a noose in her cell at the Waller County Jail in Texas, where she was incarcerated after allegedly assaulting an officer during traffic stop.

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.

Michelle Dotson says the family is trying to find out why her mother was in jail for so long and why they didn’t know about it.

“We’re taking it step by step. We don’t want to make accusations. We’re busy making preparations for my mom.”

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