Sandra Bland — a 28-year-old African-American woman from Naperville, Illinois, was found hanging in her jail cell three days after being arrested at a routine traffic stop. Her death is being treated as a murder investigation, a district attorney in Texas announced Monday night.
The Harris County medical examiner has ruled Bland’s death to be a suicide, according to local media reports following a press conference Thursday.
Officials said that the marks on Bland’s neck suggested that they were voluntary and there were no signs consistent with a struggle on the day that Bland was found. The autopsy results also highlighted weeks-old marks found on Bland’s arms that suggested self-mutilation, officials said Thursday.
The widely disputed details of Bland’s death are at the center of the investigation.
On July 10, Bland was pulled over for failing to use a turn signal. The interaction between Bland and Texas state trooper Brian Encinia grew confrontational when Bland refused to put out her cigarette. The situation escalated, and Bland was ultimately arrested on a charge of assaulting a public servant.
The altercation revealed on this dashcam starts at the eight-minute mark.
Texas Dept. of Public Safety released the full dashcam video of the arrest Tuesday night. The video’s validity is currently being called into question after glitches and loops were observed.
In the video, Encinia asks Bland to put out her cigarette. After Bland refuses, he orders her to get out of her car. He tells her to “step out, or I will remove you.” He then gets out a taser and proceeds to pull her out of the car and informs her that she is under arrest. Encinia does not tell Bland why she is being arrested.
A bystander’s video of the arrest shows Bland on the ground, with two officers standing over her. She can be heard saying, “You just slammed my head into the ground. Do you not even care about that?”
Three days after her arrest, on the morning of July 13, a female guard found Bland hanging in her jail cell. Bland’s sister, Shante Needham, said she was held on a $5,000 bond.
- At 6:30 a.m., Bland refused a breakfast tray.
- Shortly after 7 a.m., she tells an officer making a routine check, “I’m fine.”
- From about 7:30 to 9:00 a.m., the video shows no movement. Mathis’s office does not believe this footage has been doctored.
- At 7:55 a.m. Bland asked how to make a phone call, and was instructed to use the phone in her cell. The sheriff’s office found no record of Bland making a call.
- At 9:07 a.m., Bland is found hanging.
- By 9:16 a.m., paramedics have pronounced her dead.
Authorities said Bland used a trash bag to hang herself, and an autopsy classified her death as suicide. But Bland’s friends and family are disputing the finding, and have sought an independent autopsy. Though she had posted a video to Facebook weeks before the arrest revealing that she was combating “a little bit of depression as well as PTSD,” her family says suicide wouldn’t make sense since she recently got a job at Prairie View A&M University.
Soon after Bland’s death, questions arose. #SandraBland, #JusticeForSandy and #WhatHappenedToSandyBland trended on Twitter, with comparisons to the deaths of Freddie Gray, Walter Scott, Eric Garner and Michael Brown. And at the root of public skepticism is the ongoing debate over police brutality, and race relations in America. According to the Washington Post, 531 people have been shot and killed by police officers this year.
“It is very much too early to make any kind of determination that this was a suicide or a murder because the investigations are not complete,” Mathis said.
Bland’s case will go to a grand jury, which is expected to meet in August.
Below is the affidavit of Bland’s arrest.