Sandra Bland, a black woman from Chicago, was found hanged in a jail cell in Texas three days after she was arrested in a traffic stop.
HEMPSTEAD, Texas — The authorities Monday offered new details of the final hours of a Chicago-area woman who was found hanged in a jail cell in Texas three days after she was arrested during a traffic stop.
A Waller County sheriff’s official described a timeline for the jail cell of the woman, Sandra Bland, that started early July 13, when she refused a breakfast tray around 6:30 a.m., until a jailer found her hanging shortly after 9 a.m. For about 90 minutes during that period, there was no movement by jail officials in the hallway leading to her cell, according to a video that the authorities released from a camera inside the jail.
“This investigation is still being treated just as it would be a murder investigation,” the Waller County district attorney, Elton Mathis, said. He said the case is likely to be turned over to a grand jury expected to be impaneled in August.
Mathis said he expected investigators to release a dashboard-camera video of Bland’s arrest Tuesday.
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“There are too many questions that need to be resolved,” Mathis told reporters, saying that the Bland family “does make valid points” that Bland seemed to “have a lot of things going on in her life for good.”
Capt. Brian Cantrell of the Waller County Sheriff’s Office said that Bland replied, “I’m fine,” when a jailer was conducting rounds shortly after 7 a.m. and later inquired about how to make a phone call. But shortly after 9 a.m., a female jailer saw Bland hanging in her cell and summoned help. Other officers and emergency medical personnel tried unsuccessfully to administer CPR.
The death of Bland has set off protests and calls for a federal investigation from her relatives and supporters, who have sharply disputed the official ruling by the Harris County medical examiner that her death was a suicide. They said Bland, who was black, was a vocal opponent of police brutality, and they have requested an independent autopsy.
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, on Monday urged the Justice Department to investigate the death.
“Someone’s child died; some young woman died that this family loves, and we owe them an explanation,” Jackson Lee said in asking Attorney General Loretta Lynch to begin an inquiry. “I cannot sense under the facts that I know now that a 28-year-old young woman, excited about a new job, posed a threat to anybody in Waller County, including any law-enforcement officer.”
The Texas Department of Public Safety has said that the Texas Rangers and the FBI are also investigating the case.
Hempstead, the county seat of Waller County, is about 60 miles northwest of Houston. Bland had come to the county from her home in Naperville, Ill., for a job at Prairie View A&M University.
Bland was arrested July 10 in Waller County by an officer with the Department of Public Safety on a charge of assaulting a public servant. She had been pulled over for failing to signal a lane change.
A lawyer for the family, Cannon Lambert, told NBC News that the dashcam video showed that the encounter between Bland and the state trooper became confrontational after she refused the officer’s demand to put out a cigarette. The authorities said she hanged herself with a plastic bag, resulting in death by self-inflicted asphyxiation.
A handful of supporters of Bland gathered Monday in sweltering midday heat outside the Waller County Sheriff’s Office, which holds the jail cell where she died, continuing a vigil that began last week. Brandi Holmes of Houston held a sign reading, “What happened to Sandy Bland?” Another sign read, “State police profiling — you stopped her for what.”
The Rev. David Madison, president of the AME Ministers Alliance in Houston, said the demonstrators were united behind the calls for a Justice Department investigation.
“We’re not accepting the report of death suicide,” said the minister, who is pastor of the Greater Ward African Methodist Episcopal Church in Houston. “Sandra Bland had just moved from Chicago to Houston to start a new job. You don’t come all the way to Houston just to kill yourself.”
The death has fueled additional tensions over the treatment of African-Americans in police custody and comes roughly three months after the death of Freddie Gray, 25, an unarmed African-American in Baltimore who died from injuries sustained while being transported in a police van.
Jackson Lee was among a bipartisan group of Houston-area officials who were in Hempstead over the week to express concern about the case and meet with members of Bland’s family. The group included Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, a Republican; state Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston; and state Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, R-Brenham.