NEWS: An Illinois woman named Sandra Bland died in a Texas holding cell, prompting social media calls for additional investigation into her death.
On 15 July 2015, Chicago station WLS published an article titled “Road Trip for Suburban Woman Ends in Jailhouse Death.” According to that report, 28-year-old Illinois resident Sandra Bland (also called Sandy) died in a Texas holding cell around 13 July 2015:
Sandra Bland was found dead in a Waller County, Texas, jail cell on [July 13] at 9 a.m. after being arrested for allegedly assaulting a police officer during a routine traffic stop. Authorities say her death appears to be suicide.
In numerous emails and phone calls to the [WLS], her friends and relatives say they do not believe the official version of what happened and say this is a case of foul play in a county with a history racial intolerance.
Video that purportedly depicted Bland’s 10 July 2015 arrest was included in the station’s coverage:
Quotes taken from the video footage suggested that Bland objected to rough handling by the officer or officers who arrested her, and she’s quoted as saying:
You just slammed my head into the ground. Do you not even care about that? I can’t even hear! … You slammed me into the ground and everything.
A 14 July 2015 statement about Bland’s death published by the Waller County Sheriff’s Office to their Facebook page. The statement confirmed that Bland was arrested on 10 July 2015 (purportedly for failing to signal a lane change) and indicated that her death appeared to be a suicide:
On Monday, July 13th, at approximately 09:00 am, a female inmate was found in her cell not breathing from what appears to be self-inflicted asphyxiation. CPR was immediately started and Waller County EMS notified. She was pronounced deceased a short time later. In order to maintain the integrity of the investigation, the Texas Rangers were immediately notified to conduct the death investigation. The Texas Commission on Jail Standards, Texas Attorney General and Waller County District Attorney’s Offices were notified. The name of the female is being withheld at this time while investigators speak with family members from another state. She was arrested on Friday, July 10th, for Assault on a Public Servant by a DPS Trooper and booked into the Waller County Jail.
Sheriff R Glenn Smith states that any loss of life is a tragic incident and while the investigation is being conducted by outside agencies, the Waller County Sheriff’s Office will continue to observe the daily operations of the jail to always look for improvements and/or preventions of these incidents.
A number of Bland’s friends said they were skeptical of the circumstances under which Bland died:
Friends’ recollections and Sandra Bland’s own words present a picture of a young woman on the cusp of finding her niche in life. She seemed to have landed a perfect job. She had a voice and following on social media for speaking out about racial injustice and police brutality and was active in her community.
Even after one video surfaced showing the 28-year-old talking in March about depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, those who knew her said she would not have killed herself inside a Texas jail cell — not even over the confrontational traffic stop that led to her arrest, which mirrored the ones she railed against online.
“She was in good spirits. She was looking forward to what was next,” said friend and mentor LaVaughn Mosley, 57, adding that he was unaware of any struggles with depression. “She was making plans for the future, so there’s no way she was in a suicidal state.”
Waller County District Attorney Elton Mathis told WLS that he didn’t “have any information that would make [him] think [Bland’s death] was anything other than just a suicide.” Meanwhile, a state employee involved in Bland’s traffic stop has been placed on desk duty for allegedly violating department procedures:
A Texas public safety employee involved in the traffic stop that ended in the arrest of Sandy Bland — who would later be found dead in her jail cell — has been been placed on administrative duty for allegedly violating department procedures, the Texas Department of Public Safety said.
The employee was not identified. The department said that while reviewing the July 10 traffic stop in Prairie View that ended in Bland’s arrest, it “identified violations of the department’s procedures regarding traffic stops and the department’s courtesy policy.”
The Texas Rangers and the FBI are investigating the circumstances of Bland’s death. Waller County District Attorney Elton Mathis pledged a fair and impartial investigation into her death.
“The death of Ms. Sandra Bland will not be swept under the rug,” Mathis said.
He said a surveillance camera inside the jail shows the hallway leading to Bland’s cell door.
“We cannot find where anyone goes into her cell from the hallway to do her any harm, from the last time she was physically viewed alive,” he said.
Thousands of social media users have signed a Change.org petition calling for the Department of Justice to do an autopsy on Sandra Bland.
Update: On 21 July 2015, officials in Texas released dashboard camera footage of the arrest of Bland by Texas state trooper Brian T. Encinia:
Trooper Encinia asks Ms. Bland to put out a cigarette. When she refuses, he tells her to get out of the car. After Ms. Bland refuses to step out of the car, he threatens to remove her by force, saying, “I’m giving you a lawful order.”
Trooper Encinia reaches into the car to remove Ms. Bland. Ms. Bland refuses to cooperate. He repeats “You are under arrest” and requests backup. After a struggle, Trooper Encinia pulls out a taser and yells, “I will light you up.” Ms. Bland exits the car.
A second, bystander-captured clip remained in circulation on YouTube:
On 23 July 2015, the Waller County District Attorney released additional footage of Bland’s arrest “after questions were raised about whether the first version had been edited,” indicating that “technical glitches made the first video appear altered.” Results of an independent autopsy ordered by Bland’s family have yet to be released.