In April, Jack Ule died while in custody of the Bexar County Adult Detention Center, two weeks after he was arrested for criminal trespass.

On Monday, attorney Leslie Sachanowicz filed a wrongful death lawsuit in the Western District of Texas against Bexar County, Sheriff Javier Salazar, and the University Health System (UHS), which provides care for jail inmates. The lawsuit claims that Ule was discriminated against because of his mental disability. 

“Jack Ule was discriminated to death,” Sachanowicz wrote in the lawsuit. “The care Jack received from UHS was lacking in both quality and compassion.”

The 52-page lawsuit describes Ule’s medical records at UHS and his time at the jail. The lawsuit claims that the medical professionals at UHS “saw him as a mentally ill, uninsured homeless man who was over-utilizing healthcare services.” It also notes that Ule was arrested by hospital staff for trespass after being discharged. It details the requests that Ule made in jail for medical care. That care was inadequate, Sachanowicz argued. 

Ule, 63, was homeless and had been diagnosed with “chronic mental illness” by a University Health Systems physician in February. When he was arrested in April, a mental health assessment supported the diagnosis of bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, according to the lawsuit. When Ule died, Salazar said that he should not have been in jail. 

“The Adult Detention Center should not be used to house the mentally ill or those who simply cannot afford to pay their way out,” Salazar said in a statement in April. “I will continue to work with District Attorney Joe Gonzales and Judge Nelson Wolff on a long term fix.”

Jack Ule (left) with one of his nephews around 1980.

Sachanowicz dismissed the sheriff’s response to Ule’s death as talk with no action. 

“If he shares my anger, why doesn’t he do anything about it?” Sachanowicz asked at a Monday news conference in front of the Bexar County Courthouse. “How many jail population administrators has he gone through in his administration?

“He’s hired a psychiatrist for the troops. How about hiring a psychiatrist for the people in jail? What, you think the mentally ill people aren’t stressed either? He hasn’t devoted resources.”

Ule gained nearly 30 pounds in his two weeks of incarceration, according to the lawsuit. That weight could be attributed to fluid accumulation, said Tyler Morris, a nurse who reviewed Ule’s medical records for Sachanowicz. Fluids build up in the body during congestive heart failure.

“He was in the middle of heart failure,” Morris said. “That’s what led to his death, the non-treatment for heart failure.

“If the nurse had examined him that night and where the pain was … there could have been some kind of prevention at the time.”

Janice Dotson-Stephens

Sachanowicz also is the lead attorney that brought the ongoing lawsuit over Janice Dotson-Stephens’ death. Dotson-Stephens, who also was homeless and mentally ill at the time of her arrest, died in December 2018 while in custody of Bexar County Adult Detention Center. Since last December, 11 inmates have died while in custody. And after Sachanowicz filed the Dotson-Stephens lawsuit, more than 20 people called him to ask about their own family members’ mistreatment at the jail, he said. 

“Last December I stood in this very same place to talk about death and mental illness and nothing has happened,” Sachanowicz said. “[Two] people with mental illness who were treated inhumanely by the University Health System and Bexar County.”

The county and district attorney’s office enacted criminal justice system policy changes earlier this year, including not prosecuting on criminal trespass charges alone and consolidating county and city magistrate services. But those moves do not show adequate progress, Sachanowicz said.

“But for me filing the Dotson lawsuit, those changes that occurred this year probably wouldn’t have occurred,” Sachanowicz said.

The plaintiff, Ule’s brother Joe Ule, seeks the “maximum amounts allowed by the law” for extreme mental anguish and emotional distress, Jack Ule’s violation of civil rights, and punitive damages for the defendants’ actions.

Sachanowicz said the county jail needs to implement an adequate monitoring system to prevent deaths like Ule’s.

“We need to devote physical resources and really take a look at the monitoring system in place to protect the rights of others,” he said.

The Bexar County Adult Detention Center’s deficient monitoring processes came to light during an annual inspection earlier this year. The Texas Commission on Jail Standards found that detention officers were not checking in on inmates frequently enough. The jail regained its compliance status in November.

The Bexar County Sheriff’s Office said Monday that the department cannot comment on the Ule case due to ongoing litigation. But the department does monitor its inmate population, the office added – a list of inmates at the jail charged with misdemeanors and bonds under $2,500 is reviewed every week to try to reduce the jail population. 

“Additionally, we are currently in the testing phase of an automated system which electronically notifies court-appointed attorneys via email, whose clients are incarcerated for misdemeanor charges on the 15th day of incarceration, and once again on the 30th day of incarceration, to ensure that indigent inmates are receiving a fair opportunity for a change in bond conditions,” the office said in a prepared statement.

Bexar County Judge Wolff declined to comment. The University Health System also declined to comment, citing pending litigation.

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Jackie Wang

Jackie Wang is the local government reporter at the San Antonio Report.