Advertisement
VICE News

Independent Committee to Investigate 'Lingering Questions' Around Sandra Bland's Death

A committee of special prosecutors and defense attorneys will investigate Sandra Bland's death as a murder.

by VICE News
Jul 27 2015, 10:30pm

Aaron M. Sprecher/EPA

A committee of special prosecutors and defense attorneys formed by Waller County District Attorney Elton Mathis will investigate some of the "lingering questions" around the death of Sandra Bland, the 28-year old black woman from Illinois found dead in her jail cell on July 13, just three days after being pulled over for a minor traffic violation.

Last week, after Mathis says he spoke extensively with Sandra Bland's family, he became determined to treat her death like a murder case. The Harris County medical examiner ruled Bland's death a suicide, corroborating accounts given by the officials from the Texas County Jail where Bland was being held. They say Bland hanged herself using a plastic bag in her cell.

Waller County Assistant District Attorney Warren Diepraam says all injuries found on Bland's body were consistent with strangulation.

But Bland's friends and family have disputed the official version of events, saying that she had no history of suicide attempts or clinical depression.

Documents released by the Waller County Sheriff's office also revealed inconsistencies in what Bland allegedly told them regarding her history of mental illness.

In one document, Bland reportedly said she had previously attempted suicide after she lost a baby. Another form indicates the attempt happened in 2015, while another says 2014. One form indicates that Bland had suicidal thoughts in the past year, while another said she hadn't.

Related: 'We Are Celebrating a Hero': Mourners Gather for Sandra Bland's Funeral

It is still unclear why Bland was not on suicide watch while being held. Jailers who spoke with Bland when she was being booked said she seemed fine, and that no one thought she was at risk.

In the dashcam footage that was released to the public last week, Bland can be heard screaming at the officer arresting her: "You're about to break my wrist, stop! You're a real man now, you just slammed me, knocked my head into the ground, I got epilepsy, you motherfucker."

The officer, who has since been placed on desk duty for violating protocols during the roadside arrest, replies by saying: "Good."

Huffington Post released a transcript of the dashcam footage today, which lays bare the interaction between State Trooper Brian Encinia and Bland. Here's an excerpt:

Encinia: For a warning you're going to jail.

Bland: Whatever, whatever.

Encinia: You're going to jail for resisting arrest. Stand up.

Bland: If I could, I can't.

Encinia: OK, roll over.

Bland: I can't even fucking feel my arms.

Encinia: Tuck your knee in, tuck your knee in.

Bland: (Crying): Goddamn. I can't [muffled].

Encinia: Listen, listen. You're going to sit up on your butt.

Bland: You just slammed my head into the ground and you do not even care ...

Encinia: Sit up on your butt.

Mathis says the purpose of the investigating committee is to ensure "this case receives the appropriate level of scrutiny that it deserves."

Related: Prosecutors Detail Sandra Bland Autopsy Report

Dewayne Charleston, a former Waller County judge, described Waller County as "the most racist county in the state of Texas which is probably one of the most racist states in the country." The county's history of institutionalized racism has given rise to widespread skepticism over official accounts of Bland's death.

On ABC's "This Week," Loretta Lynch, the US attorney general, said she thought an important part of the debate surrounding Bland's death is the "discussions that we have seen from community members and police leaders alike about the importance of training and de-escalating incidents."

"I think it highlights the concern of many in the black community that a routine stop is not handled with the same professionalism and courtesy that other people may get from the police," Lynch said.

Watch the VICE News documentary, "Correspondent Confidential: Investigating KKK Murders in the Deep South."