Mystery hangs over police cell death
from various sources – October 2017
submitted by – Rebecca Snook
Any news updates on this case will be listed at the foot of this item
28 year-old Sandra Bland was found dead in her cell at Waller County Jail in Texas on the 13th July 2015. She was found hanging in her cell by a noose fashioned out of a plastic bag three days after being arrested for assaulting a state trooper. Sandra’s death gained international media attention as her cause of death and the events leading up to it are widely disputed and criticized.
Sandra was stopped on the 10 July 2015 by State Trooper Brian Encinia for failing to indicate whilst changing lanes in Prairie View, North West Houston. Encina approached Sandra’s car and asked her to put out her cigarette, when Sandra refused the exchange between the two became heated. Encina then asked Sandra to step out of the car and ordered her to move to the side of the road. Sandra reluctantly exited her car for what was seemingly a minor traffic offense.
Footage shot by a bystander and the police car dash-cam shows Encina drawing his taser from his holdall stating ‘I will light you up’. He then forced Sandra to the floor where she is heard complaining that he has slammed her head on the ground and screaming that he is breaking her wrist. When a female officer arrived at the scene Encina told her that Sandra had kicked him although there is no recording of this. Sandra was then transported to the Waller County Jail where she was charged with assault on a public servant.
Whilst booking in, Sandra was asked a series of questions about her mental health. The booking in documents exposed a number of inconsistencies concerning her state of mind. Sandra was first asked whether she had ever thought about killing herself to which she answered ‘no.’ She was then asked whether she had ever attempted suicide to which she answered ‘yes when I lost my baby in 2015.’
The report also stated in one section that she was taking medication for epilepsy and in another that she was not on any medication. These inconsistencies led to speculation that the report had been doctored after her death. They also raised questions about why Sandra had been left unchecked in her cell as a possible suicide risk.
Sandra’s family and friends are adamant that she did not struggle with depression or low self-esteem and that she did not kill herself. They reported that she was excited about starting a new job and her recent move to Texas.
On the 22 July 2015 Sandra’s funeral was held at the DuPage African Methodist Episcopal Church in her native Illinois. Sandra’s Mother, Geneva Reed-Veal released a statement at her funeral “That baby did not take herself out of here.”
Whilst the coroner recorded her cause of death as suicide her family believe that the police were ultimately responsible for her death.
There was suggestion in the media that Sandra had been dead when she arrived at Waller County Jail. Her mugshot was circulated and social media exploded with hashtags ‘#justiceforsandy’ and ‘#whathappenedtosandrabland.’ Her death raised questions about racial profiling and the use of excessive force by the police, with many wondering whether she would have received the same treatment had she not been African American.
Sandra’s arrest followed a series of high profile cases where black unarmed men had been killed through police brutality. In response to the claims that Sandra was dead on arrival, the Waller County Jail released footage of her alive and completing forms during the booking in process.
In response to mounting pressure from Sandra’s family and Black Lives Matter protests, an investigation was launched into her death. Elton Mathis, District Attorney of Waller County stated that “The investigation into Bland’s jail-cell death is being treated just as it would be in a murder investigation.” He clarified that “it is standard practice for any suspicious death in police custody to be investigated this way.”
During the investigation Encina was put on restricted desk duties. Throughout the investigation Encina argued that he removed Sandra from the car in order to conduct a safer traffic stop but on 6 January 2016 he was fired and indicted for committing perjury. The Grand Jury did not believe his claims that she was removed from her car in the interest of safety.
The Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw released a statement after firing Encina ‘Regardless of the situation, the DPS state trooper has an obligation to exhibit professionalism and be courteous, that did not happen in this situation.’
Although this was a positive result Sandra’s Sister Sharon Copper stated; “We’ve always strongly felt that her blood is definitely on his hands. From the time that he intercepted her, he yanked her out of her vehicle, he assaulted her, he threw her to the ground, he put her head into the ground and those are charges that we certainly would’ve liked to have seen in this case.”
Encina has never had any criminal charges brought against him.
Sandra’s family subsequently filed a wrongful death suit against the Department of Public Safety, Encina and Waller County Jail. They have provisionally settled the lawsuit for $1.9 million.”