The death was initially announced by officials as suicide. However, it was later made public by Elton Mathis, a Waller Country District Attorney that Bland’s death is being treated “like a murder investigation.”
28-year-old African-American Sandra Bland had been travelling to Texas to start a new job at a university when a Texas state police officer stopped her for failing to signal when changing lanes. Bland was taken to jail where she was later found dead with a trash bag around her neck. While a medical examiner ruled her death as suicide, her family remain skeptical.
In a news conference, members of Bland’s family and their lawyer said Sandra Bland did not show any signs of depression and was merely excited about moving to Texas to start a new job (2).
Though, despite Bland’s family saying the 28-year-old did not have a history of depression, questions have been raised regarding her mental health. According to Waller County Sherriff, R Glenn Smith, Bland had said during interviews with two officials who processed her entry into jail that she had a previous suicide attempt (3).
Despite this, Bland was never put on suicide watch.
A newly released police video of the arrest shows the incident of when the police officer, Brian Encinia, stopped Bland for failing to indicate when changing lanes. The video shows how the traffic violation stop turned confrontational when Encinia ordered Bland to put her cigarette out and to get out of the car.
The video appears to show the officer attempting to physically remove Bland from the car. In the struggle, Encinia shouts “I will light you up” at Bland while pointing a taser at her. After viewing the video, State Senator Royce West said he confirmed that the young woman was indeed threatened with a taser by the officer.
Claims have also been made that the dashboard video of her arrest may have been edited by officials and had certain sections missing. The public safety department was forced to publicly deny this.
In the wake of Bland’s death, activists are protesting that the young woman’s death is another example of police racism and excessive force made by police officers in the US.
Texas authorities released footage of what they say is the chain of events that took place on the morning Bland’s body was discovered in the police cell (4). The authorities claim that a female member of the jail staff noticed something was wrong when she saw Bland hanging from a privacy partition in her cell. The footage shows the female jailer alerting others and running to get help. A stretcher is rushed into the cell and emerges minutes later into the view of the camera with Bland on top of it.
The case has ignited controversy and claims that Sandra Bland was murdered by the police who then tried to cover it up.
Questions Surrounding Mug Shot
Some people on social media have speculated that Sandra Bland was not alive in her mug shot (4).
The anomalies these people have highlighted include the fact Bland is dressed in prison clothes in the photo. When a conventional mug shot is taken, the detainee is pictured in her own clothes at is it taken when she is first arrested.
Others have noted how there is a clear shadow behind Bland’s head on the photo, which suggests her head is touching the floor as she is lay down.
Others have commented on how Bland’s eyes look “lifeless and unfocused” and deviate from conventional mug shots which require detainees to look straight ahead into the camera.
Sandra Bland herself was described by her sister as a fighter for social justice. In April, she posted a video statement on police brutality on Facebook.
Authorities in Waller County Texas have “full faith” that Sandra Bland committed suicide, stating there was “no evidence of a struggle.”
Many questions have been raised about whether Sandra Bland should have ever been arrested. “This whole thing could have been avoided,” said Christopher Cooper, a civil rights lawyer and a former Washington police office.
An autopsy might have concluded that Sandra Bland asphyxiated herself in her cell by making a noose from a plastic garbage bag, but her friends, family and activists are still questioning the role the police played in the 28-year-old African-American’s death.
What do you think? Have you followed this case? Do you find her death suspicious or believe she committed suicide?