Should Sandra Bland's jail intake have prompted suicide watch?

Newly released documents from Sandra Bland's initial processing indicate that she told jail personnel that she had previously attempted suicide.

Shannon Stapleton/Reuters
A child holds a sign of Sandra Bland, who died in police custody, during a rally against police violence in New York July 22. Bland, a black woman who was found hanging dead in her Texas jail cell last week after her arrest following a minor traffic violation said she had attempted to commit suicide in the past year, the county sheriff said on Wednesday.

Newly released documents suggest that Sandra Bland, a woman found hanging in her Texas jail cell, had previously attempted to take her own life.

Ms. Bland, an African-American woman, was arrested on July 10 for a "combative" response to an officer during a routine traffic stop. Footage from the police dashboard camera, released Tuesday, has raised questions about the circumstances of that arrest. Her death, three days later, has been ruled a suicide by the coroner but family members and advocates skeptical of police interactions with black citizens have called that categorization into question. Prosecutors have said that it is still too soon to determine whether her death was self-inflicted or not.

Jail intake forms, released Wednesday by the Waller County Sheriff's Department, indicate that Bland told jail personnel that she had attempted suicide before and was on medication for epilepsy. However, other intake forms contradict these statements, and the attorney representing Bland’s family told the Associated Press that her relatives had no evidence that Bland was being treated for epilepsy nor had ever attempted suicide in the past. 

Some critics, including Texas state Sen. Royce West (D), have asked if action was not taken to monitor Bland if she had been deemed suicidal. If an inmate is placed on suicide watch, face-to-face check-ins occur every fifteen minutes, rather than the usual hourly checks.

Bland’s body was discovered more than 90 minutes after the previous check-in.

The release of these intake forms comes after the sheriff’s office released a dashcam video of the arrest, which critics have suggested may have been edited. The department maintains that any incontinuity in the video is the result of a technical glitch rather than intentional editing. 

On the video, Bland is seen stopped by police on July 10 for failing to signal a lane change. The police’s video shows the situation between Bland and the officer escalating after Bland refuses to get out of her vehicle. The officer then tells Bland that he will “light you up” with a taser before forcibly pulling her from her car and dragging her to the side of the road. The dashcam footage does not capture the video of what happens next, but Bland can be heard shouting from off-camera that the officer was about to break her wrist.

During video recorded by a passerby, which went viral following Bland’s death, the arresting officer Brian Encinia is seen pushing Bland to the ground as she screams that she has been injured by the officer. Officer Encinia has been suspended pending an investigation of the incident.

Additional concerns have arisen around several white county officials with cloudy histories involving dealings with black members of the public.

Texas Rangers and the FBI are investigating the case. The full medical examiner's report has been completed, but not yet released.

This report contains material from the Associated Press.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.