Activists call for independent inquiry of Sandra Bland’s jail cell death in Texas – Los Angeles Times
A coalition of civil rights activists on Monday called for an independent investigation into the death of Sandra Bland, an African American woman who was found hanged in her Texas cell and whose death is the latest case to raise questions about race and police.
“This is not a race war. This is a war on black lives,” said the Rev. Hannah Bonner, pastor of justice ministries at St. John’s United Methodist Church in Houston, a white minister who has been holding a vigil outside the sheriff’s office since Bland’s death. The group of about two dozen clergy and other supporters called for the Department of Justice to investigate Bland’s death earlier this month.
A closed-circuit video taken in Texas jail shows that no one entered the cell of Bland, who was found hanged, said Waller County Dist. Atty. Elton Mathis in a televised interview on Monday.
Mathis said there were no cameras in the cell where Bland was found. In an interview with CNN on Monday, he said that cameras monitoring the hall outside her cell show no one entered or left it between the time she last spoke with deputies through an intercom system and when her body was discovered July 13.
Even though there is a preliminary ruling of suicide, Mathis said the case would be investigated as though it was a homicide. In addition to state police, the FBI is involved in the probe, which could go to a local grand jury when it next meets in August.
The jailhouse video is scheduled to be released late Monday afternoon. But activists questioned its validity, saying that video can be altered and time stamps changed.
“This was not a suicide. This behind me was murder. All of America knows something is rotten,” said the Rev. Jamal Bryant, speaking at news conference in front of the Waller County Sheriff’s Office and County Jail.
Bland’s death is the latest in a series of cases involving authorities and deadly confrontations with African Americans, including Eric Garner on Staten Island and Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., in 2014, and Walter Scott in North Carolina and Freddie Gray in Baltimore, both in April.
Like the other cases, social media, especially Twitter, has played an important role in focusing attention on Bland, 28. The woman prepared and posted more than two dozen videos on Facebook, many dealing with the deaths of blacks at the hands of police.
“We’re doing as much as we can,” she said in early April. “And we can’t help but get pissed off when we see situations where it’s clear that the black life doesn’t matter. Show me in American history where all lives have mattered. Show me liberty and justice for all like that — Pledge of Allegiance we love to say.”
Bland was stopped July 10 for a traffic violation in Waller County, about an hour from Houston. Bland, of Naperville, Ill., was in the area to interview for a job at Prairie View A&M University, a historically black college from which she was graduated in 2009.
According to the Texas Department of Public Safety, Bland failed to signal that she was changing lanes and a trooper pulled her over. The trooper was going to give her a written warning but Bland became argumentative and uncooperative, officials say.
Officials have said Bland kicked the officer. A video shot by a passerby purports to show the arrest and the trooper restraining Bland on the ground. He then brings her to the police vehicle.
Bland was taken into custody for assault on a public servant, officials said. An emergency medical services unit responded, but Bland refused a medical review and was taken to the county jail, according to the Department of Public Safety. She was held through the weekend awaiting a court appearance.
Her body was found Monday morning in her cell. She used a plastic bag to hang herself, officials said.
“Her manner of death is classified as suicide,” Tricia Bentley, spokeswoman for Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences, which handled the autopsy, told the Los Angeles Times on Monday. “The cause of death is hanging.”
The officer, who has not been named, has been placed on administrative duty pending an investigation, officials said.
“In the preliminary review of the traffic stop that occurred in Prairie View on July 10, 2015, involving Sandra Bland, we have identified violations of the department’s procedures regarding traffic stops and the department’s courtesy policy,” the department said last week in a prepared statement.
Bland’s family disputes the finding and has hired its own forensics experts to conduct a separate autopsy. The result is expected this week.
Family members and friends insist Bland was looking forward to a new job at her former school and that she gave no indication she would kill herself.
In a widely reported video posted to her Facebook page, Bland said she was suffering from “a little bit of depression as well as PTSD,” or post-traumatic stress disorder. Friend and mentor LaVaughn Mosley of Prairie View has told reporters that he believes that Bland was just venting after a bad day.
The activists question all of the official statements.
Bryant, the clergy member, alleged that the trooper who stopped Bland had been assigned to desk duty at the time and was not supposed to be patrolling.
Bryant said he and others had been briefed by the Bland family’s attorney Monday morning. He said they were shown dash camera video from the trooper involved that showed him questioning Bland about why she was smoking in her car. Bland then defended her right to smoke cigarettes.
He said Bland also can be seen in the dash cam video filming the trooper with her cellphone, but that video has not yet been released.
Bryant questioned why the plastic bag Bland allegedly used to kill herself was in a jail cell and why authorities called a funeral home run by a white individual rather than an African American, as he said is customary in Waller County when the dead are black.
Bryant called on U.S. Atty. Gen. Loretta Lynch to start an independent investigation and, “Take this out of the hands of the police.”
Bland’s body was expected to be released Monday and the family plans to have an independent expert perform a second autopsy, according to the Rev. David Madison of Greater Ward AME Church in Houston and president of the AME Ministers Alliance.
Madison said Bland’s body would be taken back to Illinois for a funeral, which had yet to be scheduled. A memorial is planned at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Prairie View A&M University.
Bland’s supporters toted signs outside the jail Monday that featured quotes from her videos, pictures of Bland and lingering questions, including: “What happened to Sandra Bland?” and “They stopped her for what?”