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.

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