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Woman Who Could Have Been Released for $30 Dies After Spending 150 Days in Custody

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Janice Dotson-Stephens, a 61-year old Black woman, died while in custody five months after being arrested for misdemeanor charges, in which she could have been released on bond for only $30. Her family, who didn’t know that she had been in jail until she died, is suing the authorities involved, claiming that Dotson-Stephens could not have been jailed in the first place because she is mentally ill.

Dotson-Stephens was arrested on a criminal trespass charge after consistently telling the police that she wouldn’t leave the Mt. Zion elder community at San Antonio on July 17. According to a police report, she told the officers that the only place she would go is the jail. The officers did so and booked her into the Bexar County Jail.

Her bail was set to $300, and because most bail bond companies would only require at least 10 percent payment to be bailed out, she could have been released for just $30. But she died five months after her arrest. The medical examiner’s office stated that she died of natural causes.

“The question is, ‘What did you do to treat her?” said Les Sachanowicz, the attorney representing the family. “Did you give her the standard of health care that the community would have?”

Dotson-Stephens’ family has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against Bexar County, Bexar County Pre-trial Services, and the University Health System.

“We’re convinced that their mom was ignored to death, and what I mean by that is there is a culture of deliberate indifference for her and other inmates in the pre-trial system and at the Bexar County Jail,” Sachanowicz said.

Brigette Lott, Dotson-Stephens daughter, said her mother suffered from a long history of mental illness including severe mood disorder and schizophrenia. She argued that her mother could have been brought to a mental health institution rather than the jail after the arrest.

“It was absolutely normal that my mom would just leave and we might not hear from her for a long time,” Lott told San Antonio Express-News. “That was normal for us. We were under the assumption that it was a regular cycle. She’ll get in trouble, then she’ll get better, then we’ll start the cycle all over again.”

Meanwhile, Bexar County officials claim that they weren’t informed of the mental health issues of Dotson-Stephens and said she was given proper care during her imprisonment.

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Student Volunteers Operate One of the Busiest Tax Offices in the City

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St. Philip’s College students will open San Antonio’s most productive income tax preparation site when the 2019 Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) season begins on Jan. 22.

Currently the top floor of the college’s Bowden Building, at 1801 MLK Drive, has been taken over by the VITA San Antonio program for training its entire corps of new and returning tax preparers. The St. Philip’s site, which was established in 1992 and run by students, is ranked No. 1 in productivity locally in 2018, No. 4 in productivity in the region, and No. 12 in productivity nationally.

Kenneth Bankston is the VITA college site leader and the instructor for the tax training center. He said they have already trained 300-400 volunteers on campus since December. VITA provides free income tax return preparation to taxpayers earning up to $60,000 annually. All VITA tax returns are prepared and submitted to the IRS electronically by volunteers. Taxpayers can anticipate receiving a check in seven to 10 days business days.

For the 2018 tax season, the VITA-St. Philip’s College volunteers processed $7.3 million in refunds for 4,170 clients. Many of the students who volunteer to help taxpayers are scholarship recipients of the HEB Student Engagement Grant.

Crystal Gandara is a 2015 alumna of the college’s liberal arts and business administration programs who began volunteering for VITA in 2014.

“For 2019, I’m going to help with Spanish speakers and see if we can serve 5,000 people. I think both are achievable,” said Gandara.

Lisa Alvarez is a 2018 alumna of the college’s computerized accounting program. Now she’s training this week to become the leader at VITA’s Brook Hollow site.

“When I got into VITA, I was no longer unsure what I wanted to do. When I tell people what I love do with taxes, they are like, well you are one of the few. When I get to Brook Hollow, I’m going to have my St. Philip’s College VITA experiences in my head the whole time. I love it, because this is helping people,” Alvarez said.

For details, contact site leader Kenneth Bankston at spc-vita@alamo.edu or call (210) 486–2122. To learn more, go here.

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New Interim District 2 Councilman

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Former Councilman Art Hall has been chosen as the interim District 2 Councilman to replace William “Cruz” Shaw. Hall previously served on the council, representing District 8. He has residences in both districts.

Hall was selected among a group of three finalists that included military veteran and motivational speaker Jada Sullivan, and Denver Heights Neighborhood Association President Aubrey Lewis. Thirteen people originally filed to be considered for the position. Hall said he will not file to run for the position in May. Hall must wait 10 days before being seated on the council.

Hall, who is an attorney and a dean at St. Philip’s College, served two terms from 2003 to 2007 when he represented District 8. The recent District 2 Council seat became vacant when Shaw resigned to accept an appointed judicial position at the Bexar County Courthouse.

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San Antonio City Council *Live*

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