The family of Sandra Bland, the black woman found dead in a Texas jail three days after a confrontation with a white state trooper, is now suing the arresting officer and other Texas authorities as a "last resort" after being "unable to get enough information about the case."
Bland was found dead in her Waller County jail cell on July 13. Authorities say she killed herself — but her family and supporters have strongly refuted the claims, insisting she was optimistic and looking forward to a new job. Inconsistencies between documents pertaining to Bland's arrest and detention, together with her family's insistence that she was not suicidal, mean some members of the public continue to be wary of evidence that jail officials are providing.
"The bottom line is she never should have been inside the jail cell. Period," Bland's mother, Geneva Reed-Veal, said at a news conference on Tuesday. She added she was confident Bland "knew enough about Jesus" that she wouldn't hang herself, and her feelings as a mother say her daughter didn't. But "anything is possible," she said.
Bland's death came after nearly a year of heightened national scrutiny of police and their dealings with black suspects, especially those who have been killed by officers or die in police custody.
The lawsuit made against the Texas authorities, with Bland's mother as plaintiff, seeks unspecified punitive damages "for egregious acts and omissions" by Brian Encinia, the trooper who carried out the shooting, the Texas Department of Public Safety, Waller County, the sheriff's office and two jail employees.
It states that Bland should never have been arrested, that Encinia falsified an assault allegation to take her into custody, and that she was later held in "reckless" conditions without proper supervision to keep her safe.
The lawsuit says the Department of Public Safety failed to property train Encinia, that Waller County jail personnel failed to properly monitor Bland "to keep her safe and secure," and that the county inadequately trained jail employees on how to handle inmates who are potentially suicidal.
The Texas Commission on Jail Standards has already cited the jail over some of these matters, including that guards failed to observe Bland in-person at least once every hour. Larry Simmons, an attorney for Waller County, said the county would soon file a response to the lawsuit and intend to "vigorously defend the case."
Bland was in Prairie View, northwest of Houston, when she was stopped July 10 for a minor traffic infraction. The fast-escalating footage shows Encinia engage in a shouting confrontation with her and attempting to drag her out of her car, before drawing his stun gun and threatening to "light her up." Bland eventually was arrested for allegedly assaulting the trooper.
Bland's family attorney Cannon Lambert said that in filing the lawsuit, the family is demanding "bold, decisive action" be taken. "This family's motivation is that they don't want to see this sort of thing happen again to another family," he said.
Expressing dismay that Encinia remains on administrative leave rather than being fired, he added: "The fact that it hasn't happened yet is a frustrating thing."
Lambert said the family's own autopsy has been delayed by missing information from authorities, and that information the family has received from law enforcement has been inconsistent.
"We don't have the gastric content information. We don't have the ligature. We don't have the police reports. Candidly, we don't really know the time of death," he said. Documents released by officers contain numerous discrepancies and fail to paint a clear picture of Bland's mental health record. Lambert said that now, the times has come for answers and the family needs to know what was done to try to help her.
The Associated Press contributed to this report