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New video of Sandra Bland's traffic stop shows the aggressive arrest before she died in police custody in Texas. Gwen Ifill learns more about the investigation into Bland’s death and the officer’s conduct from Alana Rocha of The Texas Tribune.
ALANA ROCHA, The Texas Tribune:
Well, her initial reason or the officer's initial reason for pulling her over was simply changing lanes without signaling.
She tried to explain to him, when she was saying why she was frustrated, that she saw him coming behind her, and she wanted to get out of the way and maybe she just wasn't thinking and didn't signal. But she's obviously frustrated, expresses that to him. He obviously doesn't like her attitude and uses unnecessary force is what DPS is saying, that he, you know, violated protocol in that stop.
Is there any way, looking at that video, that you can determine — I know you have had a chance to look at more of it than we were able to show on the program — that she did anything that we see on tape that was illegal?
I mean, I think that him asking her to put out the cigarette was the straw that broke the camel's back, if you will, and you hear him put down his clipboard after she refuses that request and says, "I'm in my car, I'm within my rights."
We have talked to legal experts since that video came out yesterday saying she is within her rights to be smoking in her car. But they also say that when a law enforcement officer asks you to do something, whether it's right or not, sometimes it's best to just comply. And she doesn't.
So, when the administration or when the city said they're going to investigate the cop's — the officer's behavior and investigate whether — and take him off the street, as it were, that is still an open question about whether his behavior was acceptable?
We heard that at yesterday's press concerns from the Department of Public Safety, of which he's a trooper and representing that agency. They took him off the streets. He is on administrative duty, from what I understand is the latest, and that he violated protocol, as far as always being professional and courteous. He wasn't, clearly, in that video.
And, also, I mean, they're trained to de-escalate situations, and he clearly tried to further infuriate her.
OK. So, let's talk about the second piece of this, which is how she died, which we also don't have the clear answers to, as we could tell from listening to the family's news conference today.
What do we know about what happened after she was arrested, how she came to be in a cell by herself and then be in a position, if it's true, to commit suicide?
Details released Monday from both the Waller County Sheriff's Office and the DA, we asked if her mental health was ever evaluated. They say they give all inmates a questionnaire or ask them a series of questions to try to determine that and said that, and said that you know — they really didn't see the results.
We are hearing from the closed-door meeting — from an official in the closed-door meeting yesterday that, evidently, in that questionnaire, she said that she had attempted to commit suicide prior. I believe that the official said it was the result of losing a baby.
But back to where or how she was categorized when she came into the jail, because of the nature of the charge, assault of a public servant, she was deemed high-risk, and so she was separated from other inmates and that's why she ended up in a cell alone.
So, that's how a traffic stop became being held over the weekend for $500 bail?
Right, and there was a lot of question.
And you hear later in the video that DPS released of the traffic stop — you hear the officer say that, "I told her she was under arrest after she kicked me." But, really, he told her that she was under arrest right when she refuses to put the cigarette out and makes her — tries to make her get out of the car.
Why is this being treated as a murder investigation? Is that just something that happens automatically?
We didn't hear that at Friday's press conference, but, Monday, they did make it clear that it's being treated as a homicide or worked as a homicide investigation. And because of that — or that's because, rather, the Texas Rangers, whenever there is a person who dies in police custody, whether it be a jail or prison, they just try to put everybody at ease I guess by doing everything as far as, you know, in this case doing DNA of the trash bag to see who else's DNA aside from hers would have been on that.
Of course, you know, we can expect, rather, that we're going to see some of the other officers' DNA on that, just because somebody had to put that bag in the trash can.
What can we say about Waller County, Texas? Is there a history? We remember watching this as other conflicts have unfolded in the last year, and it always emerges that there was some friction that existed between the black community and the police officers at the time of these flash points. Was there a history here as well?
From what I gather, yes.
I got into town on Sunday and attended a memorial service at Hope AME, which is right in front of where she was stopped initially, packed church. Several faith leaders took a few minutes each to speak. They initially said that it wouldn't be political, that they would just offer up well-wishes for the family in this time of mourning.
But as the speeches went on, you heard white and African-American reverends take to the podium and talk about the history of racial profiling in that community. And you do have a large African-American population there with Prairie View A&M, a predominantly African-American college, in that county.
Alana Rocha of The Texas Tribune, thank you very much.
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