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Sandra Bland, a 28-year-old black woman, was pulled over by police in Waller County, Texas, on July 10 for failing to use her turn signal when she changed lanes. During the traffic stop, she was arrested for being "uncooperative." Three days later she was found dead in her jail cell, in what authorities said was an apparent suicide by asphyxiation.
The local district attorney said that Bland had evidently hung herself using a trash bag. The Texas Rangers and the FBI are currently investigating the circumstances around her death.
Last Friday, the Department of Public Safety said that it had assigned the officer who stopped Bland to desk duty, noting that it had "identified violations of the department's procedures regarding traffic stops and the department's courtesy policy."
Cannon Lambert, an attorney for Bland family, said on Monday that police dash cam footage of the traffic stop — which has not been publicly released — showed that the encounter took a turn after Bland refused the officer's request that she put out her cigarette.
"Why do I have to put out a cigarette when I'm in my own car?" Bland asked, according to an account that Lambert gave to NBC News. "And that seemed to irritate him to the point where he said, 'Get out of the car.' "
Lambert said that because Bland wasn't comfortable exiting her vehicle, the officer "looked to force her to get out of the car by way of opening the door and started demanding that she do" — though the attorney noted that it wasn't clear why she should have to exit her car during a routine traffic stop.
'We don't understand this. It doesn't make sense.'
On Sunday, as mourners held a candlelight vigil for Bland at her alma matter, Prairie View A&M University, her family called for an independent autopsy, insisting that the official version of her death could not be true. The results of this examination are expected to be released by Wednesday.
Meanwhile, Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick visited the jail where Bland died.
"No one should jump to any conclusions," he said. "Wait for the investigation to be completed and then see what the facts have to say. But regardless, it is a tragedy anytime when a young woman loses her life."
Bland's family doubts she committed suicide.
"Based on the Sandy that I knew, that's unfathomable to me," Bland's sister, Sharon Cooper, said at a news conference in Chicago after her sister's death.
Lambert told reporters that some family members believe Bland may have been killed.
"This family is really looking to understand what happened," he said. "We don't understand this. It doesn't make sense."
Bland had arrived in Texas to start a new job at Prairie View A&M University, and was driving near the school when an officer stopped her for failing to use her signal. According to the Texas Department of Public Safety, the officer said that he asked her to step out of the vehicle after she became uncooperative and she allegedly kicked him. Another officer arrived to assist with the arrest and Bland was booked in the county jail.
Video footage of Bland's arrest shot by a bystander and posted to YouTube on Wednesday shows two officers restraining her on the ground as she yells loudly about the police using excessive force. She can be heard saying, "You just slammed my head into the ground. Do you not even care about that? I can't even hear."
The Waller County Jail has a history of violations in which it was cited for inmate suicides in 2012 and earlier this year, and for an inmate escape in 2014. On Thursday, the Texas Commission of Jail Standards issued a "notice of non-compliance" against the jail, citing insufficient staff training and the monitoring of inmates.
No cameras were in the jail cell where Bland was found dead, said Waller County District Attorney Elton Mathis, but he described camera footage in the hallway showing no one entering Bland's cell before her death.
In a video on her Facebook page posted in March, Bland said that she suffered from "a little bit of depression as well as PTSD."
But family members and friends say she was not at all suicidal.
One day after Bland's death, an 18-year-old black girl named Kindra Chapman died in a similar incident in Alabama. She had been accused of robbing a cellphone and was arrested on a charge of first-degree robbery, and allegedly hung herself in jail.
The deaths of Bland and Chapman helped launch the Twitter hashtag #IfIDieInPoliceCustody, designed to draw attention to police brutality.
Saturday, activists with the Black Lives Matter movement interrupted a town hall meeting with Democratic presidential candidates Martin O'Malley and Bernie Sanders by chanting, "If I die in police custody... make sure that I'm remembered." They pushed the candidates to directly address the treatment of blacks in police custody.