Update, 9:30 p.m.: Details continue to trickle out about the death of Sandra Bland, the Illinois woman who was arrested in Texas on Friday afternoon and died in police custody on Monday morning from what local authorities are calling a suicide.
Waller County Sheriff Glenn Smith said the morning of Bland’s death, she was held, alone, in one of the two holding facilities for women at the county jail. Smith says Bland was fed breakfast at 7 a.m. and spoke to the jail staff about making a phone call an hour later before she was found dead around 9 a.m. Bland used a trash bag in her cell to hang herself from a partition, according to the sheriff.
The district attorney said security footage did not show anyone entering Bland’s cell Monday morning. Staff at the county jail performed CPR on Bland, but couldn’t resuscitate her, according to the sheriff’s office. An autopsy was performed on Tuesday by The Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences in Houston, which found the death was a suicide by hanging.
The Bland family continues to question the sheriff’s account of her death and a lawyer for the family said at a news conference Thursday the family believes “that she was killed.” Bland’s sister, Shante Needham, said she spoke to Bland over the weekend and “there was no indication that Bland was in an emotional state where she would harm herself,” according to the Chicago Tribune. In a March Facebook video, Bland said she suffered from depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.
The Texas Department of Public Safety requested the FBI assist in the investigation of Bland’s death. The Houston F.B.I. office told the Houston Chronicle the bureau is monitoring the investigation and will conduct its own review once the local investigation is complete. Here’s the Chronicle with more details on Bland’s Friday arrest:
A Texas Department of Public Safety trooper pulled Bland over Friday afternoon around 4:30 p.m. near Prairie View A&M after changing lanes without signaling, according to Trooper Erik Burse, a spokesman for the Public Safety Department. The trooper ordered her out of the car because she was argumentative and uncooperative, he said, adding that she was about to be issued a written warning when she kicked the trooper who had pulled her over. At that point, she was arrested and charged with assault on a public servant. In a video of the arrest, Bland complained of police slamming her head against the ground and being unable to hear. She was held on a $5,000 bond, according to records from the Waller County District Clerk's Office.
In the press conference Thursday, Sherriff Smith addressed his disciplinary history for racism on the job. “Black lives matter to Glenn Smith," he said. "I can assure you of that.”
Original Post: A troubling story posted Wednesday night by an ABC affiliate in Chicago is picking up momentum online Thursday: the case of Sandra Bland, a black woman from Naperville, Illinois, who was stopped by police in Waller County, Texas, for making an improper lane change last Friday and ended up dead in jail on Monday morning. Police say Bland—who was in the area for a job interview at her alma mater, Texas Prairie View A&M—was arrested for “assault on a public servant” and appears to have committed suicide. But a friend told ABC those who knew Bland are “100 percent in belief that she did not do harm to herself.”
Video taken by a bystander of Bland's July 10 arrest shows her complaining that officers had slammed her head into the ground:
Waller County Sheriff's officials told ABC that Bland was “combative” after officers stopped her for improperly signaling a lane change (!); a department statement says she was found dead at 9 a.m. Monday (July 13) of what “appears to be self-inflicted asphyxiation.” It's not clear why Bland was still in custody a full three days after being arrested. (Update, 1:55 p.m.: News reports from the time say that Waller County Sheriff Glenn Smith was fired from a previous job in 2008 after he and members of his department were accused of racial bias and brutality.)
A Waller County prosecutor told ABC he does not “have any information that would make me think” Bland's death “was anything other than just a suicide.”
While Waller County is predominately white, Prairie View A&M is a historically black college whose students, as BuzzFeed's Joel Anderson notes, have staged large-scale protests a number of times in recent years during conflicts with local officials over voting-related issues.
ABC reports that Bland had been offered, and had accepted, the job she was in the area to interview for.