Texas authorities hope Sandra Bland booking video will quell rumors

Texas authorities have released additional footage from Sandra Bland's time in jail to dispel angry allegations from the public, a judge said.

Brett Coomer/Houston Chronicle/AP
Margaret Hilaire bows her head in prayer during a demonstration calling for the firing and indictment of Texas State Trooper Brian Encinia, Sunday, in Katy, Texas. Sandra Bland was found dead in her cell on July 13 in the Waller County Jail, just days after being arrested by Officer Encinia during a traffic stop. Authorities determined through an autopsy that Bland hanged herself with a plastic bag.

The conspiracy theories around Sandra Bland's death in a Texas jail have taken on a life of their own, with one narrative suggesting that Ms. Bland was actually dead before she was brought to jail.

That's what Texas' Waller County Judge Trey Duhon said Tuesday to explain officials' decision to release additional footage from the booking room where Bland was taken after her July 10 arrest. 

Mr. Duhon said that the rumors – including one that Bland's mug shot was taken after her death – have prompted death threats against county officials, some of which are being investigated by the FBI.

"Because of some of the things that's gone out on social media, this county has been literally attacked," he said at a news conference.

Since Bland's death in police custody was ruled a suicide by the county coroner, many have questioned the findings of local authorities, who have come under fire for past misconduct and alleged racism.

Until she was found hanging on July 13 in her cell at the Waller County Jail, "Sandra Bland was alive and well," said Duhon.

Bland, a 28-year-old African-American from suburban Chicago, had been arrested for allegedly assaulting the state trooper who had initially pulled her over on a traffic stop. Authorities a week ago had released dashcam footage from her arrest, a video that showed Texas state trooper Brian Encinia attempting to pull her out of her vehicle and threatening her with a taser after she refused to put her cigarette out.

This new video released today shows Bland arriving at the jail, being questioned by a jailer filling out forms, making phone calls, getting her mug shot taken, sleeping in her cell, and being taken in and out. She appears calm when she arrives at the jail, sometimes even smiling.

Instead of the pay phone in her cell, the jailer let her use the phone at the booking desk. And she was seen talking with animation during some of the calls, although the video has no audio.

An initial toxicology report was also released Monday, which two experts have suggested indicate she may have used marijuana while in custody. It's important, Waller County prosecutor Warren Diepraam said, because information on her marijuana use may shed some light on determining her state of mind.

The amount of THC, one of the active components of marijuana, in Bland's system was 18 micrograms per liter, according to the report – more than three times the legal limit for drivers in Colorado and Washington, states that permit the recreational use of marijuana.

Capt. Brian Cantrell of the Waller County Sheriff's Office said Tuesday that he doesn't know if Bland could have used marijuana in the jail. 

But will these new reports be enough to dismiss the outcry? Bland's story is the latest in a series of high-profile police-involved deaths that have triggered national scrutiny over the treatment of blacks, and in Chicago as recently as Tuesday night, more than 100 people gathered downtown for a vigil and protest.

To increase the authorities' credibility, an external legal team has been brought in to assist Waller County District Attorney Elton Mathis in investigating Bland's death.

"I don't know if we'll ever get an answer to all the questions," attorney Lewis White of Sugar Land, one of the committee members, told the Associated Press. "But our job is to get answers. There are going to be answers some people don't like."

This report contains material from The Associated Press.

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