Sheriff Javier Salazar looking to improve approach to inmates who face substance abuse

Bexar county sheriff Javier Salazar met with University Health Services to evaluate how they approach situations with inmates facing substance abuse.

SAN ANTONIO — Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar met with University Health Systems President George Hernandez on Monday to discuss how to better serve inmates who are dealing with substance abuse.

This comes not even a week after two inmates died in separate incidents within 24 hours of each other.

The Sheriff commented on the incidents last week. He noted that the jail facility is seeing a growing number of individuals with severe health issues and, “deadly withdrawal symptoms” being booked.

“We have taken proactive measures, such as instituting Operation Life Guard, a wide-scale approach to addressing inmate health and welfare. This plan has seen some success,” Salazar said in a BCSO release. “We will become more stringent on who we medically accept into our facility. These people would be much better served in a robust medical facility, rather than what we can offer in the jail.”

A proactive approach is what community advocates like Steve Huerta with the San Antonio chapter of the national nonprofit, All of us or None supporting incarcerated people, want.

“We have to address the underlying systemic issues that contribute to these senseless deaths,” Huerta said.

Huerta said he wants there to be more mental health professionals on the ground level for the people that are dealing with substance abuse. He added that the goal is to treat and rehabilitate rather than incarcerate.

“It belongs in the hands of medical professionals…counselors…therapists…drug and alcohol support groups,” Huerta said.

According to Texas Justice Initiative 10 people died while incarcerated at the Bexar County Jail in 2023. That’s double the amount of inmates who died while in custody in 2020.

In all, three people have died while in custody at the jail so far this year.

Background on the latest incidents:

Duane Ventimiglia, 40:

A 40-year-old man who was booked into the Bexar County jail Saturday died less than an hour after he was found “unresponsive” in his cell.

Officials with the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office (BCSO) said a deputy had communicated with Duane Ventimiglia just minutes before he was found in the middle of an apparent medical episode shortly before 9 a.m. Thursday.

“The deputy immediately called for an emergency code for additional assistance, entered the cell and began performing lifesaving measures,” BCSO said in a release.

First responders eventually arrived to assist in trying to help Ventimiglia, but officials say he was declared dead at 9:47 a.m. An official autopsy must still be performed, but BCSO said he may have died from “medical complications associated with a history of substance abuse.”

Ventimiglia’s bond had been decreased from $1,000 to $25 on Wednesday, online records show. BCSO in looking into the incident internally while the Bexar County Precinct 2 Constable’s Office conducts its own investigation. 

Ventimiglia is the second person to have died while in custody at the jail this year.

Francisco Salinas, 41:

Officials say a man jailed in Bexar County died after he was found “unresponsive” in his cell Friday morning, marking the second such incident in as many days at the detention center located just west of downtown.

RELATED: Another Bexar County jail inmate dies while behind bars; second in as many days

Francisco Salinas, 41, was arrested and booked into the jail on Tuesday. According to the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office (BCSO), Salinas was found unresponsive in his cell by a deputy undergoing routine checks just before 7 a.m. 

That deputy “immediately began performing life-saving measures” and called for assistance; medical staff at the jail arrived to help, but BCSO says Salinas was pronounced dead at 7:19 a.m.

While the local medical examiner’s office has yet to perform an autopsy, BCSO said “it appears that the inmate suffered a medical episode compounded by withdrawal symptoms,” adding Salinas had prior chronic conditions requiring “a constant level of care.”

Salazar said Salinas and Ventimiglia both appeared to be detoxing at the time of their deaths, adding BCSO was working to potentially introduce new protocols to help such inmates. 

An official cause of death has not been ruled by medical examiners. University Health declined to comment on the incidents until an official cause of death has been ruled.

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