The family of a 61-year-old Black mother from Texas is searching for answers after she unexpectedly passed away while held in jail on a $300 bond.
Janice Dotson-Stephens was reportedly arrested in July and jailed on charges of criminal trespassing with no next-of-kin listed on her admitting paperwork, according to CNN. Although Stephens’ daughter, Michelle Dotson, did confirm that her mother had a history of mental illness that led to her being arrested on prior occasions, she says the family had no idea that Stephens had been in jail for five months until they we contacted about her death.
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“There was a cycle that repeated itself,” Dotson said. “She’d be fine. She’d be on her meds. Then something would happen, and she would go off her meds. 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.”
Dotson-Stephens’ cause of death is being reported as atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease, with chronic mental health condition, schizoaffective disorder, listed as a contributing factor. An investigation into her death has been launched by the Converse Police Department under the Sandra Bland Act, which was signed into law in 2017 as a result of the 2015 death of Sandra Bland, who was found hanging from a noose in her jail cell after being arrested during a routine traffic stop.
Under the act, law enforcement agencies are required to “investigate the death of an inmate in jail” and “send people with mental illness and substance abuse issues toward treatment options.”
The Dotson family is looking into why they weren’t notified that Dotson-Stephens had been arrested and was in jail for months before her death.