28-year-old Sandra Bland was found dead in her jail cell in Waller County, Texas on Monday, and while the police are calling it a suicide, her friends, family, and pretty much everyone else who hears about this aren’t convinced that’s what happened.
Bland was arrested last Friday after being pulled over for failing to signal a lane change. The police said she became violent, and they arrested her for assaulting a public servant. She was then found dead in her cell on Monday morning. An autopsy was performed and her death was ruled a suicide by hanging.
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The Texas trooper involved in the arrest was put on desk duty for alleged violations of Department of Public Safety rules.
The agency said in a statement that the officer who stopped Bland’s car on July 10 in Prairie View, Texas was assigned to administrative duties after the DPS “identified violations of the department’s procedures regarding traffic stops and the department’s courtesy policy.”
Tom Vinger, a spokesman for the DPS, told the Associated Press that it is “still being determined which procedures the trooper allegedly violated.
The DPS statement also said the agency and the Waller County D.A. have asked the FBI to perform a “forensic analysis” of videos related to the case.
Bland’s friends and family feel that the police’s story doesn’t add up. For one thing, the odd quickness with which everything seemed to escalate seems off. In a matter of 72 hours Bland went from being pulled over for a minor traffic violation, to being arrested for assaulting a cop, and then killing herself, according to the police’s story. There’s also the fact that Bland is black, and Waller county supposedly has a history of discriminatory law enforcement behavior.
Below is a video that is allegedly of Bland being arrested. She is clearly protesting throughout, and at the ends she screams about how she was thrown to the ground simply for a traffic violation. This would imply that there was never any confrontation with the police, as they claim. One cop tries to tell the person shooting the video that they have to leave, but the person filming responds that they are on public property. The video ends with Bland being taken away and her thanking the person for recording the incident.
Bland was in Waller County because she was just about to start a new job doing student outreach at Texas Prairie View A&M, her alma mater. This also leads those who knew her to feel like Bland suddenly becoming suicidal when she was just about to embark on a new and welcome chapter of her life is highly questionable.
There’s also this confusing aspect to the story, from the Chicago Tribune:
Online county jail records show that Bland was arrested Friday and released Monday on $5,000 bond.
Bland was found Monday morning by a female jailer who had gone to Bland’s cell to see if she wanted some recreation time, Smith said.
I admit that I could simply be confused and reading this wrong, and if that’s the case someone please let me know, but it certainly seems like she was being held after records show that she was released. The Smith they are referring to is Waller County Sheriff Glenn Smith.
Although the death is being investigated, Waller County DA Elton Mathis does not believe there was any foul play, and stated, “I understand there’s some disbelief among some friends and family that she would do this to herself. That’s why it’s very important that the Texas Rangers be allowed to conduct a thorough investigation.”
A medical examiner ruled her death a suicide, but family members and friends have called into question the likelihood of that narrative, and now the FBI has joined a previously underway investigation being conducted by the Texas Rangers.
Bland’s sister, Shante Needham, said she had received a call from her on Saturday saying that she had been arrested and thought her arm had been fractured by the police.
“I do suspect foul play,” said Bland’s friend, Cheryl Nanton. “I believe that we are all 100 percent in belief that she did not do harm to herself.”
In 2007, Waller County Sheriff Glenn Smith was suspended without pay from his previous role as Hempstead County sheriff and ordered to take anger management classes for allegedly racist behavior during an arrest of a black suspect. He was later fired from that position after further allegations of inappropriate conduct, including “humiliating strip-searches of young black people” during a failed drug raid. He has since served as Waller County sheriff, and during his tenure at least one other person has been found hanged in their cell, ruled an apparent suicide.
Additionally, previously mentioned district attorney Elton Mathis, who is handling Bland’s case, was accused last year of sending threatening, racially motivated text messages to a black pastor who criticized his handling of cases involving minorities.
Smith and Mathis are the exact type of figures Bland had a history of speaking out against as an activist and vocal member of the Black Lives Matter movement. Her tragic death comes the same week as another alleged suicide of a woman of color in police custody, Kindra Chapman, an 18-year-old who police say hung herself in her jail cell after being arrested for stealing a cell phone.