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The Puzzling Death of Sandra Bland

On July 13, 28-year-old Sandra Bland was found dead in her cell from “self-inflicted asphyxiation” in the Waller County Jail. Bland was arrested for assaulting a public servant following a traffic stop for failing to signal a lane change. The recent release of dashboard camera video and booking records has raised questions surrounding the young woman’s puzzling death. Investigations have been launched by the FBI and the Texas Rangers; however, Bland’s family and supporters are not convinced the official version of events is accurate.

Prior to Bland’s arrest, the Chicago-area woman had just gotten a new job at her alma mater, historically-black Prairie View A&M. Despite her previous battle with depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, Bland’s family denies any recent indication that she was suicidal. According to a close relative of Bland, the young woman was “euphoric” about the new job opportunity in Texas.

Why was Sandra Bland arrested?

On July 10, Bland was driving near Prairie View A&M, when Texas state Trooper Brian Encinia pulled her over for failing to signal a lane change. The routine traffic stop took a turn for the worse when Encinia invoked his authority to demonstrate dominance over Bland, rather than acting as a community guardian.

According to the footage of the arrest, Trooper Encinia exceeded the level of discretion that the state entrusted with him by failing to de-escalate the encounter. Clearly, Encinia’s ego was affected when Bland lacked a deferential attitude towards the trooper’s unlawful requests (putting out her cigarette). Violations of DPS policy and poor policing occurred when Encinia commanded Bland to “get out of the car, or I will light you up” and when he pointed a taser in the woman’s face.

What happened at the Waller County Jail?

According to Alexandria Pyle, who was in a neighboring cell at the jail, Bland was emotional and was not eating. The former jail inmate said Bland was constantly crying because her bond was set at $5,000 and no one had returned her calls from the Texas jail.

Minimum Jail Standards require “visual, face-to-face observation of all inmates by jailers no less than once every 60 minutes.” A guard contacted Bland shortly before 7 a.m., but the next check did not occur for nearly two hours later. At 8:55 a.m., jail personnel found Bland not breathing and hanging from a trash bag in her cell.

Waller County failed to provide evidence that jail staff had completed two hours of annual training with “the local mental health authorities.” The training is intended to provide jail staff “recognition, supervision, documentation, and handling of inmates who are mentally disabled and/or potentially suicidal.”

It is evident that Waller County neglected Sandra Bland. The moment Bland was in the custody of Waller County she became the responsibility of Sheriff R. Glenn Smith, who failed to care and control the environment she was forced to be in.


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