Sandra Bland’s death is now being looked at as a possible murder, according to Waller County District Attorney Elton Mathis. While the initial autopsy report ruled the death as a suicide by hanging with a plastic bag, Mathis said the murder investigation will go to the grand jury in August.
On Tuesday, police dash cam footage of the arrest was released to the public. Bland was pulled over in Prairie View, Texas, in a routine traffic stop on July 10 by a state trooper from the Texas Department of Public Safety for failing to signal when changing lanes. The state trooper ran Bland’s information and returned to her car with a written warning. He asked Bland to put out her cigarette, to which Bland questioned, “I’m in my car. Why do I have to put out my cigarette”
This is when the officer asked Bland to step out of her car, but Bland refused, insisting that he didn’t have the right to ask her. But he quickly became agitated, threatening to “yank” Bland out of the car. As the two engaged in a verbal altercation, he opened the door and leaned inside, although what he did in the car is unseen. He then pointed his Taser at her and said, “I am gonna drag you out of here I will light you up.”
Bland repeatedly asked why she was being arrested. Eventually the officer determined she was non-compliant and handcuffed her, although this is not seen on camera.
Bland wound up on the ground at some point during the arrest, but it is not captured on the dash cam video. A cell phone video captured this part of the arrest and shows Bland on the ground with state troopers next to her as Bland accuses them of 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.”
One of the cops eventually approaches the bystander and tells him to leave. “Thank you for recording!” Bland yells to the bystander towards the end of the video.
A statement from the Texas Department of Public Safety describes Bland as “argumentative and uncooperative,” and Mathis, who viewed the dash cam footage prior to its release, admits that Bland was “combative.” However, Mathis also points out that “It was not a model traffic stop.”
Bland was eventually taken to Waller County jail, where she was found dead in her cell just three days later.
The video surveillance near Bland’s cell does not give much insight into what could have happened, but there is a six-minute gap in the footage from 7:18 AM until 7:24 AM. Mathis says he does not suspect the video was edited, but the FBI is performing an analysis to confirm this.
Bland’s family has requested an independent autopsy because they simply don’t believe Bland had any reason to take her own life. She had just moved from Illinois to Texas to take a new job as an ambassador at Prairie View A&M University, her alma mater. Her family does not understand why she would commit suicide after moving 1,000 miles away to start an exciting new adventure.
One of Bland’s sisters, Sharon Cooper, does not see suicide as a possibility. “Based on the Sandy I knew, this is unfathomable to me,” she said. “People who knew her, truly knew her, the depth of her, that’s unfathomable right now.”
Some people have cited Facebook posts Bland made in March, admitting to suffering from a touch of depression and PTSD. However, Bland’s family insisted that she was just a regular person with good and bad days.
Despite the cryptic Facebook post, Mathis still believes it would be bizarre that someone in Bland’s position would kill herself. “There are too many questions that still need to be resolved. Ms. Bland’s family does make valid points that she did have a lot of things going on in her life that were good,” he said.
Following Bland’s death, the topic #IfIDieInPoliceCustody took Twitter by storm. People used the topic to make personal statements affirming that they would never commit suicide and telling followers that if they were to ever die under suspicious circumstances in police custody it was not of their own doing.
#IfIDieInPoliceCustody, it wasn’t by my own hand. Ask questions. Demand answers. Bcuz I would never give them the satisfaction of a suicide.
Kim Brown (@KimBrownTalks) July 22, 2015
Should the independent autopsy find that Bland’s death was in fact a suicide, it will still not negate the violent circumstances of her arrest which is not a first for the state. Texas also saw a case of police brutality against a young Black female last month when fifteen-year-old Dajerria Becton was shoved to the ground by former officer Eric Casebolt at a pool party in McKinney.