Moments after she was pulled over for making an improper lane change in Texas, Sandra Bland was video recorded by a witness laying face down on the ground with two cops on top of her before one of the cops approached the witness and ordered him away.
Three days later, the 28-year-old Illinois woman who had just accepted a new job in a new state was found dead; hanging in a jail cell by a trash bag; her death ruled a suicide by medical examiners.
A mere $500 was all she needed to have bailed out.
Now, almost a week after her death, it has sparked several investigations and a growing national suspicion that the official storyline is just not adding up.
Not only are the FBI and Texas Rangers conducting a joint investigation into the traffic stop and incarceration, which involved the Texas Department of Public Safety and the Waller County Sheriff’s Office, the Waller County District Attorney’s Office said it is gathering evidence to present to a grand jury.
None of that, of course, is a guarantee that justice will be served if there had been any foul play behind her death.
But even if she did commit suicide, it is becoming evident that the Waller County Sheriff’s Office could have done more to prevent her death.
But American jails have never been a bastion of compassion and empathy. And studies indicate the rate of suicide in a jailhouse population is more than three times the rate of the general population, according to Radley Balko at the Washington Post.
So no matter what did take place from the moment she was pulled over on Friday, July 10, to the moment she was found dead on Monday, July 13, the case of Sandra Bland is becoming another reminder that our criminal justice system is seriously flawed and in dire need of reform.
Investigators indicate they might release dashcam footage of the initial traffic stop on Monday, which should show whether or not she did kick a police officer as they have claimed, an act that got her arrested for assaulting a peace officer.
If you have not been keeping up with this growing national story, here are ten facts that should bring you up to date.
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The Texas state trooper who arrested Bland, Brian Encinia, has been placed on desk duty for violating departmental policies during her stop. It is not clear at this point if he was the same cop who tried chasing away a witness who was recording the scene, telling him “you need to leave” several times. But the man who was standing on public property asserted his rights, capturing her final words before she was placed into the back of a patrol car: “Thank you for recording. Thank you. For a traffic signal. Slammed me into the ground and everything.”
Sandra Bland was an outspoken critic of police violence, especially police brutality against black people. She maintained a video series on Facebook titled “Sandy Says” where she would speak about issues or race, police brutality and her love of God. During one of these videos, recorded in March, she mentioned she suffered from depression, which has prompted many in the media to speculate it is an indicator that she would commit suicide. However, she never mentioned she was contemplating suicide in that video and she ended it in a positive note, saying her faith in God would help her through her dark moments. In another video, she spoke of her love for her life and God after she was involved in a traffic accident where a motorcycle ended up through her back window, but the motorcyclist survived.
Waller County Sheriff Royce “Glenn” Smith was fired as Hempstead Police Chief in Texas in 2007 after several accusations of racism from black community members. Smith, in fact, was first suspended without pay for two weeks after videos and allegations from residents made their way to the Hempstead City Council. He was fired after he refused to resign, then hired by the Waller County Sheriff’s Office where he then ran for sheriff and won, beating a black candidate, who would have become the county’s first black sheriff.
After she was pulled over for making an improper lane change, Bland was accused of kicking a state trooper, even though there was no need for her to have even been out of the car in the first place. That kick, police say, is what prompted them to pounce on her. But they don’t explain why she had stepped out of the car and how they ended up in a grassy area more than 30 feet from the driver’s side of her car. Police say they were about to let her leave with a warning before she kicked them.
She spoke to her sister on Saturday from jail, one day after her arrest, and stated that she believed she suffered from a broken arm or shoulder. And during her arrest, she mentioned that she was unable to hear because police had slammed her head to the ground. Yet Waller sheriff officials said she declined medical attention. If her arm or shoulder was broken, would she have had the strength to tie a plastic bag around her neck and hang herself?
Sheriff Smith said that “trash bags are a day to day item in the cells” because inmates clean their cells daily, which is eye-raising because most jails tend to not to leave items in cells that inmates could use to hurt themselves, other inmates or jail guards. Most jails require inmates to remove their belts, shoe laces and jewelry for this reason. And just how much trash are the inmates accumulating where each cell needs a trash bag for daily cleaning?
The Waller County jail has deficiencies in training when it comes to recognizing mental health issues with inmates as well as basic operations such as simple inmate observation, according to a state report. Sheriff Smith insists these deficiencies had no bearing on Bland’s death, but if she did commit suicide by hanging herself with a plastic bag, then those deficiencies have complete bearing on her death and should result in a lawsuit.
Sandra Bland had at least ten previous encounters with police 0ver traffic violations as well as arrests for DWI, marijuana and shoplifting going back to 2004. While many commenters are using this as evidence that she is not as innocent as her supporters claim she is, nothing in her records indicate she would act violent towards officers or anybody else for that matter. There is not even a resisting arrest charge on her record. And having been jailed before would have made her statistically less like likely to commit suicide. In fact, a study on jail suicides discovered that most jail suicides involve young, intoxicated men who aren first-time offenders who kill themselves during the first few hours of their incarceration.
She had just accepted a job at her alma mater of Praire View A & M. In fact, she had just signed the papers making the job official when she was pulled over. It was a dream job for her; a community outreach position that would have had her working with underserved members of the community.
Her death inspired a Twitter hashtag, #ifIdieincustody where people are stating for the record that they would not kill themselves if arrested, even if they may have expressed sadness at some point in their life beforehand.