In this July 13, 2015, frame taken from video provided by the Waller County Sheriff’s Department from a motion-operated camera, emergency personnel carry a gurney near Sandra Bland’s jail cell, at the Waller County jail in Hempstead, Texas. The video, released Monday, July 20, shows there was no activity for about 90 minutes in the hallway leading to the cell where authorities say Bland was found hanged, three days after her arrest. (Waller County Sheriff’s Department via AP)
HEMPSTEAD, Texas (AP) — The operators of a Texas jail where a Black woman died after she was arrested in a traffic stop have acknowledged violating state rules on guard training and the monitoring of inmates.
The Waller County Jail, about 60 miles northwest of Houston, is under investigation in the death of Sandra Bland, a Chicago-area woman whose family disputes authorities’ finding that she hanged herself with a plastic garbage bag in her cell.
The Texas Commission on Jail Standards last week cited the jail for not providing documents proving that jailers in the past year had undergone training on interacting with inmates who are mentally disabled or potentially suicidal.
The citation also showed that jailers fell short by not observing inmates in person at least once every hour.
The sheriff’s office said Friday in a statement that jailers checked on the 28-year-old Bland via intercom on one occasion rather than in person.
Commission Executive Director Brandon Wood has declined to say if the citation is related to Bland’s death. But sheriff’s officials mention her when explaining the violations, noting that they don’t believe “either one of these deficiencies had any part in the death of Ms. Bland.”
State and local officials gather for an inquiry looking into the death of Sandra Bland on Tuesday, July 21, 2015, in Houston. Bland, a 28-year-old African American woman, was arrested July 10, after being stopped by a Department of Public Safety trooper for failing to signal a lane change. A DPS spokesman said she was arrested after becoming “uncooperative” and kicking the trooper. Three days later, she was found hanging from a ligature in her cell made from a plastic bag. Bland’s family disputes authorities’ finding that she hanged herself in a jail cell. (Brett Coomer/Houston Chronicle via AP)
The Texas trooper who pulled Bland over for failing to signal a lane change said in an affidavit that after handcuffing her for becoming combative, she swung her elbows at him and kicked him in his right shin.
In the affidavit released Tuesday, trooper Brian Encinia said he then used force “to subdue Bland to the ground,” and she continued to fight back. He arrested her for assault on a public servant.
Bland was taken to the jail on July 10 and found dead in her cell July 13.
Texas authorities said last week that the trooper violated procedures and the Department of Public Safety’s courtesy policy during the traffic stop and was placed on administrative leave.
Encinia has been a trooper for just over a year.
A Texas Rangers investigation into Bland’s death is being supervised by the FBI.
Waller County District Attorney Elton Mathis has asked for extensive scientific testing, including fingerprints and DNA, “so we can figure out and say with certainty what happened in that cell.”
Although a medical examiner has ruled Bland’s death a suicide, supporters insist she was upbeat and looking forward to a new job at Prairie View A&M University, where she graduated in 2009. Bland’s family and clergy members have called for a Justice Department probe, and an independent autopsy has been ordered.
However, Bland posted a video to her Facebook page in March, saying she was suffering from “a little bit of depression as well as PTSD,” or post-traumatic stress disorder. Family members have said nothing in her background suggested she was mentally troubled, and at least one friend said she was just venting after a bad day.
Her death comes after nearly a year of heightened national scrutiny of police and their dealings with Black suspects who have been killed by officers.
Brandi Holmes, of Houston, carries a sign as she protests in front of the Waller County Sheriff’s Office and county jail on Monday, July 20, 2015, in Hempstead, Texas. Authorities said Bland hanged herself in the jail three days after being pulled over by police for a traffic violation and then arrested for allegedly kicking an officer during the stop. Bland’s family is ordering an independent autopsy, lawyers said. (Karen Warren/Houston Chronicle via AP)
The case has resonated on social media, with posts questioning the official account and featuring the hashtags #JusticeForSandy and #WhatHappenedToSandyBland. Others referred to #SandySpeaks, the hashtag Bland used in monologues she posted on Facebook in which she talked about police brutality and said she had a calling from God to speak out against racism and injustice.
Court records show Bland had several encounters with police in both Illinois and Texas over the past decade, including repeated traffic stops and two arrests for drunk driving, one of which was later dismissed.
She was also charged twice with possession of a small amount of marijuana. A 2009 case was dismissed, but she pleaded guilty last year to the other charge and was sentenced to 30 days in jail.
A decade earlier, in June 2004, Bland was charged with one count of retail theft of less than $150 in Elmhurst, Illinois. She pleaded guilty and was fined.
Authorities expected to release dashcam footage of her arrest Tuesday.
A video from the jail shows a period covering about 90 minutes with no activity in the hallway leading to Bland’s cell. The video does not show the inside of her cell or even her cell door.
It then shows a deputy reacting to what she sees while looking in the cell, triggering a frenzy of activity. An EMT crew arrives with a wheeled stretcher. Deputies and medical personnel are seen coming and going, but a body isn’t visible.
A guard checked with Bland about two hours before she was found dead and Bland told her, “I’m fine.” About an hour later, Bland asked to make a telephone call and was advised over an intercom that the phone was on a wall in the cell, according to Capt. Brian Cantrell, head of the sheriff’s department criminal investigation division.
There is no record of her ever making a phone call, he said.
Mathis said the dashcam video is consistent with information the officer has provided about the traffic stop, though he said it shows only restricted views of the encounter.
A cellphone video posted online purporting to include part of Bland’s arrest shows an officer pinning a woman to the ground with one knee. At one point the woman can be heard yelling that she can’t “feel my arm.”
“You just slammed my head into the ground,” she says. “Do you not even care about that?”