Above Photo: WNV/Ashoka Jegroo
Reports contradict each other and a promised video never materialized.
Sandra Bland’s family seeks proof that the 28-year-old woman killed herself in a Texas jail, as authorities say.
Relatives of Sandra Bland, the jailed motorist who authorities say hanged herself in a Texas cell seven months ago, said they’re still unable to get basic information about her death from authorities.
Police files contain discrepancies, they said, and a videotape that investigators promised would show the hanging never materialized. Further, authorities haven’t returned personal items confiscated from Bland when she was booked.
A medical examiner ruled that Bland, 28, committed suicide on July 13, but her family is unconvinced, their lawyer said. After all, the state trooper who roughly arrested Bland during a videotaped traffic stop has been charged with perjury.
“The family doesn’t know what to believe,” attorney Cannon Lambert said. “They’ve been told certain things that haven’t borne out to be true.”
On Thursday, lawyers for Geneva Reed-Veal, Bland’s mother, will head to federal court in Houston with the hope of gaining access to records, including a Texas Rangers report on Bland’s death and an unedited jail video showing activity outside her cell. Reed-Veal is suing Trooper Brian Encinia, who arrested her, and 13 members of the Waller County Sheriff’s Office, which supervises the jail.
Police dashcam video of the arrest, showing Encina reaching into Bland’s car and threatening her with a Taser stun gun, elevated her death into a national outrage among Black Lives Matter activists and others who say she never should have been locked up. Bland was stopped for an illegal lane change, police said. An argument with the trooper escalated after he ordered her to quit smoking a cigarette inside her own car.
Bland’s mother said a Texas Rangers official promised to show her a video of the hanging, but the footage was inconclusive, according to Lambert.
“That is incorrect,” said Tom Vinger, a rangers spokesman, said in an email. “The offer was to view available video.”
Reed-Veal said she also was promised personal items confiscated from her daughter when she entered the county jail three days before her death. So far, Lambert said, nothing has been returned.
“All of this has built an inability for her to feel comfortable or confident in what they say,” Lambert said.
Lawyers for defendants in Reed-Veal’s lawsuit didn’t respond to HuffPost’s inquiries. They have filed motions to dismiss the complaint.
The incomplete batch of documents that have been pried loose by the lawsuit have provided a more detailed picture of Bland’s death than what authorities previously disclosed.
One report, written by Waller County jail investigator Marc Langdon, gives the most detailed timeline of events after a guard discovered Bland’s body hanging from a plastic garbage bag in her cell.
There were still signs of life when guards loosened the makeshift noose from Bland’s neck, the report said. The jail nurse, using a stethoscope, heard a pulse while a sheriff’s lieutenant performed CPR, according to Langdon’s report. Minutes later, at 9:06 a.m., a paramedic declared Bland dead, according to the report.
A deputy who rushed into Bland’s cell “loosened the noose to from Inmate Bland’s neck and slid it up and over her head so she could lay Inmate Bland on the floor,” Lt. Sherry Rochen told Langdon. That would have been around 9:01 a.m., when Rochen said she began CPR, according to the report.
Langdon’s report about the noose appears to be contradicted by a report on the autopsy conducted on July 14. The autopsy report mentioned a note in the bag containing Bland’s body that said the “trash bag used as a ligature” was removed at 12:14 p.m., shortly before Bland’s body was transported to the morgue in Harris County.
The difference in time could simply be the result of sloppy paperwork.
“The hope is that they did a much more thorough investigation than what they documented,” Lambert said.
Langdon’s report reveals that Bland, using the intercom in her cell, requested permission to make free phone calls from the booking counter less than an hour before her death. Instead, a jailer told Bland to use the telephone in her cell.
That exchange was around 7:55 a.m., around the time guards should have visited her cell. The last in-person inspection took place at 7:05 a.m., but no one checked on her again until her body was found.
From the time she entered jail on July 10, 2015, Bland made seven phone calls, according to Slate. Her family members said they didn’t hear from her after July 11, Lambert said.
Lapses have already been exposed at the jail. The Texas Commission on Jail Standards said jail staff failed to check on inmates face-to-face once an hour as “required by minimum jail standards.” Staff also had not gone through yearly trainings on dealing with inmates with mental disabilities and potential suicidal behavior.