A dashboard-camera video released Tuesday showed in excruciating detail how a routine traffic stop in Hempstead, Texas, led to a black woman being dragged from her car and arrested, three days before she was found hanging in her jail cell.
HEMPSTEAD, Texas — A dashboard-camera video taken by law officers released Tuesday showed in excruciating detail how a routine traffic stop led to a woman being dragged from her car and arrested, three days before she was found hanging in her jail cell.
State legislators who saw the video just before it was released publicly and sharply condemned the officer’s behavior, which the director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, Steven McCraw, said was a violation of department arrest procedures. State Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, said the woman, Sandra Bland, 28, should never have been taken into custody.
State Rep. Helen Giddings, D-Dallas, said, “This young woman should be alive today.”
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Bland, an African-American from the Chicago area who had come to Texas to begin a job at her alma mater, Prairie View University, was arrested after she was stopped July 10 for a failure to signal a turn.
The video shows the officer pulling Bland over and how their encounter escalated from a routine stop to an overheated shouting match and a physical altercation in which he apparently threatened her with a Taser. The video also confirmed an account from the family’s lawyer that the confrontation between Bland and the trooper, Brian Encinia, escalated after she refused his order to put out a cigarette, West said.
Neither the Taser nor the confrontation over the cigarette were mentioned in Encinia’s incident report, which was also made public Tuesday.
The video showed an increasingly hostile exchange between Bland and Encinia after she was pulled over.
Encinia stood outside the driver’s door and explained to her that she was being written up for failing to signal a lane change.
“You seem very irritated,’’ he said.
“I am, I really am,’’ she said, saying that she had pulled over to get out of his way and was now getting a ticket because of it.
“You mind putting out your cigarette?’’ he asked testily.
“I’m in my own car, I don’t have to put out my cigarette,’’ she said.
When he ordered her out of the car, she refused, and the encounter escalated.
“I’m going to yank you out,’’ Encinia shouted.
Before long, the video showed, she was outside the car shouting insults and obscenities, and the officer had her in handcuffs.
In the affidavit, Encinia described Bland as “combative and uncooperative” and said she began swinging at the officer with her elbows after she was removed from the car, handcuffed and forcibly subdued, according to the trooper’s arrest report.
“Bland was placed in handcuffs for officer safety,” Encinia said in the arrest affidavit. “Bland began swinging her elbows at me and then kicked my right leg in the shin. I had a pain in my right leg and suffered small cuts on my right hand.”
The affidavit was released by the Waller County district attorney’s office, and the Texas Department of Public Safety released the dashboard camera’s video of the arrest.
Bland’s death has been ruled a suicide, but her supporters have disputed the findings as calls grow for a federal Justice Department investigation.
According to the Waller County Sheriff’s Office, Bland appeared in good health when she was booked and placed in Cell 95 in a housing area for women in the one-story jail. It was a Friday. Three days later, on Monday, July 13, a jailer making rounds found her hanging in her 15-by-20-foot cell shortly after 9 a.m.
Waller County officials said Bland had been found in a “semi-standing position,” hanged with a plastic trash-can liner affixed to a U-shaped metal hook. Jail officials and emergency medical personnel placed her on the floor and unsuccessfully administered cardiopulmonary resuscitation before she was pronounced dead at 9:16 a.m.
The liner had been taken from the trash container in her cell, said Brian Cantrell, a criminal investigator for the sheriff’s office. The Texas Commission on Jail Standards has since ordered trash-can liners removed from the jail, Cantrell said.
The Harris County medical examiner — who officials said had conducted the post-mortem investigation because of inadequate medical facilities in rural Waller County — ruled the death a suicide resulting from self-inflicted asphyxiation, but the Waller County district attorney, Elton Mathis, said Monday that he was pursuing the case “like a murder investigation.”
“There are too many questions that need to be resolved,” Mathis said. The case will likely be referred to a Waller County grand jury, scheduled to be convened in August.
Bland’s family has called for an independent autopsy.
Investigations are under way by the FBI and the Texas Rangers, the investigative unit of the Department of Public Safety. U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, and others have also called on U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch to order a Justice Department inquiry.
A growing cadre of Bland’s supporters, including friends and family, have said they find it inconceivable that she could have been contemplating taking her life after things seemed to be going her way.
Mathis, the district attorney, said the family “does make valid points” that Bland seemed to “have a lot of things going on in her life for good.”
However, Bland posted a video to her Facebook page in March, saying she was suffering from “a little bit of depression as well as PTSD,” or post-traumatic stress disorder. Family members have said nothing in her background suggested she was mentally troubled, and at least one friend said she was just venting after a bad day.
Her death comes after nearly a year of heightened national scrutiny of police and their dealings with black suspects who have been killed by officers.
The case has resonated on social media, with posts questioning the official account and featuring the hashtags #JusticeForSandy and #WhatHappenedToSandyBland. Others referred to #SandySpeaks, the hashtag Bland used in monologues she posted on Facebook in which she talked about police brutality and said she had a calling from God to speak out against racism and injustice.
Court records show Bland had several encounters with police in both Illinois and Texas over the past decade, including repeated traffic stops and two arrests for drunken driving, one of which was later dismissed. She was also charged twice with possession of a small amount of marijuana.
Many of Bland’s supporters have raised questions about the role race may have played in her arrest and death, in a county with a long history of racial discord.
The Waller County sheriff, R. Glenn Smith, was suspended for two weeks without pay as Hempstead police chief in 2007 after allegations of racism were leveled against him and several other white officers, according to accounts in The Houston Chronicle and other news outlets.
Smith has strongly challenged suggestions that race was a factor in Bland’s death and has said his office is seeking to be as transparent as possible in assisting in the investigation. He also pointed out that members of the jail staff supervising Bland on the day of her death were either black or Hispanic.