Sandra Bland: Who was she, and what happened to her in a Texas jail?

Sandra Bland was about to start a new job and a new life in Texas last week when she was pulled over. The traffic stop turned violent and she was arrested. Three days later she was found dead in jail. 

Abel Uribe/Chicago Tribune via AP
Sandra Bland's sister Sharon Cooper (front) takes questions from the media, while her sisters Shavon Bland (left) and Shante Needham become emotional, during a news conference about their sister's death on Thursday in Chicago. Sandra Bland, who authorities say hanged herself in a Texas jail after her arrest, gave no indication she was in such an emotional state that she would kill herself, her sister said Thursday.

Sandra Bland was minutes away from her prospective new workplace when she was pulled over by police on a rural Texas highway. Police say she was arrested after being "combative" on the side of the road, and she was taken to county jail. Three days later, she was found dead in her cell.

Waller County police arrested Ms. Bland, a young black woman, last Friday and she was found dead on Monday, but news reports have begun to surface about her in the past 24 hours. These give some insight into who she was and what happened during those three days in jail.

But much still remains unknown. The Federal Bureau of Investigation and Texas Rangers are investigating the incident. As of Friday morning, this is the information that has been confirmed:

  • Bland was driving down to Waller County to start a new job working in student outreach at Prairie View A&M University, her alma mater. She had driven from her home in Naperville, Ill., in July for a job interview and got the job. Her start date was supposed to be this past Wednesday, two days after her death, according to The Root.
  • Police say they stopped Bland outside the Prairie View campus on July 10 for failing to signal while changing lanes. According to police, she became combative during the stop, was arrested, and was charged with "assault on a public servant."
  • A cellphone video of the arrest has surfaced online, though Bland is already on the ground when it starts. "You just slammed my head into the ground," she can be heard shouting. "Do you not even care about that? I can't even hear."

How Bland ended up being thrown to the ground is unclear. Renee McKnight watched the arrest from a barbershop across the street.

"She was telling him to get his so-and-so hands off of her and jerking away from him," said Ms. McKnight, according to KHOU-TV in Houston. She then saw Bland end up on the ground, but said she "couldn't tell if he slammed her down there or it was a maneuver she did trying to stop him from putting her in the car that caused her to be put on the ground," McKnight said.

"She was very, very upset," McKnight added. "She wasn't trying to get in that police car."

Malcolm Jackson, a friend of Bland's who witnessed the arrest, told ABC7 Chicago that the police were forceful from start to finish during the traffic stop.

Another of Bland's friends, LaVaughn Mosely, told KHOU that she called him from jail on Friday night and gave her account of what happened.

"She was smoking when he pulled her over. Told her to put her cigarette out, she had an exchange of words, and it just went downhill. She said he snatched her out of the window and slammed her on her face," he said.

Mr. Mosely added that Bland was in "good spirits" when she called on Friday. She reportedly tried to post bail, according to The Daily Beast, which conducted a brief interview with Joe Booker, a bail bondsman in Hempstead, Texas. 

"I talked to her when she first went to jail,” Mr. Booker told The Daily Beast on Thursday. “I called her mother for her."

It would have cost $500 to bail out Bland, the site reported. At 7 a.m. on Monday, she was given breakfast, and she asked to make a phone call. Waller County Sheriff Glenn Smith told ABC7 that officers also interacted with her at 8 a.m. Monday, speaking with her over the jail intercom. She was found dead an hour later.

The Waller County Sheriff's Office said Bland was "not breathing from what appears to be self-inflicted asphyxiation." CPR was performed immediately, the sheriff's office said, but Bland was pronounced dead shortly thereafter. The Harris County medical examiner ruled that Bland's hanging death was a suicide, according to KHOU.

"It appears she had used a trash bag to hang herself from a partition in the ceiling, which was used to give inmates privacy," said Elton Mathis, Waller County district attorney, according to KHOU. Mr. Mathis also told ABC7: "I do not have any information that would make me think it was anything other than just a suicide."

But Bland's friends and family dispute this account, saying that she would never hurt herself.

Cheryl Nanton, a friend of Bland's, told ABC7: "I do suspect foul play.... I believe that we are all 100 percent in belief that she did not do harm to herself."

"We're very suspicious," said Mosely. "We're very upset that this has happened, and it seems like there's nothing really being done about it."

LaNitra Dean, described by the station as a longtime friend, said that Bland "would not have taken her own life."

Ms. Dean told the station that Bland "was a warm, affectionate, outspoken woman." She added that Bland "was strong – strong mentally and spiritually." 

There are questions about Bland's mental health. She used her Facebook page as a diary of sorts, posting videos where she would monologue on a variety of topics – from going natural with her hair to the "Black Lives Matter" movement. She called the videos "Sandy Speaks."

In one video posted on March 1, she apologized for not posting for a while.

"I'm suffering from something that some of you all may be dealing with right now. It's a little bit of depression, as well as PTSD," she said in the video. "I've been really stressed out over these past couple of weeks, but that does not excuse me not keeping my promise to you all by letting you all know that somebody cares about you, somebody loves you, and that you can go out there and do great things."


Posted by Sandra Bland on Sunday, March 1, 2015

The deaths of African-Americans at the hands of law enforcement became a national issue after a series of high-profile deaths around the country. One of the incidents involved Freddie Gray, a Baltimore man who died in April, a week after he was arrested, from injuries sustained while in police custody.

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