Waller County Sheriff's Office / AP

Woman found dead in jail ‘did not deserve’ arrest, Texas senator says

Sandra Bland, a black woman from Illinois, died under disputed circumstances in a Texas jail cell

A Texas lawmaker who met with the family of Sandra Bland, a black woman found dead in her jail cell after her arrest following a routine traffic stop, said she should never have been in police custody in the first place.

State Sen. Royce West, who represents Waller County, where Bland was pulled over, about 50 miles west of Houston, said at a press conference Tuesday that a police dashcam video released that day shows that the officer should not have arrested her.

"Once you see what occurred, you will probably agree with me that she did not deserve to be placed in custody," he said, pledging alongside other public officials that there would be complete transparency in the investigation.

He called for the grand jury considering the case to be "ethnically diverse." 

The director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, Steven McCraw, said at the press conference that the officer who arrested Bland did not follow protocol during the stop. "One of the many procedures is letting the individual know what action is going to be taken, regardless of the situation," he said.

He added that the officer would be taken off the street and kept on administrative duty until the resolution of the case.

The newly released footage shows a Texas trooper asking Bland to get out of her car. When she doesn't comply, he points a stun gun at her and says, "I will light you up."

Late Tuesday night, Texas Department of Public Safety authorities said they were looking into alleged edits to the tape, according to NBC News.

DPS spokesman Tom Vinger told NBC News that he could not speculate on whether the video was edited. "I will have to check in the morning. I can't speculate without looking at the CD," he said, referring to the original recording of the video.

On Tuesday evening, Bland's mother has told attendees of a memorial service that her daughter returned to Texas from her home in suburban Chicago "to stop all social injustice in the South."

Geneva Reed-Veal again said she doesn't believe her daughter took her own life. She also spoke of her grief at the memorial on the campus of her daughter's alma mater, Prairie View A&M University, saying, "I have a baby to put in the ground."

Bland's death comes amid a growing public outcry and increased national scrutiny of police after the deaths of unarmed African-Americans by police, including Michael BrownTamir Rice and Eric Garner

Bland's death, which local authorities said was a suicide, will be investigated as a murder and will go to a grand jury, the local district attorney said as officials. 

The Waller County Sheriff's Office said she took her own life, and the medical examiner in nearby Harris County ruled the death a suicide. But her family and friends have publicly questioned the official account, which maintains that Bland, 28, from Naperville, Illinois, hanged herself with a plastic garbage bag.

Authorities have released a three-hour video from a camera outside her jail cell, and the Waller County jail has admitted to failing to properly train guards and follow protocol for monitoring potentially mentally unstable inmates.

"This investigation is still being treated just as it would be in a murder investigation. There are many questions being raised in Waller County, across the country and the world about this case. It needs a thorough review," Waller County District Attorney Elton Mathis said at a press conference on Monday.

"It will go to a grand jury," he said, adding that questions remain about Bland's death and that the FBI is overseeing the investigation.

Jail staffers found her dead on July 13, three days after she was arrested. The video taken outside Bland's cell shows a deputy reacting to what she sees in the cell, triggering a frenzy of activity. Medics then arrive with a wheeled stretcher. Deputies and medical personnel come and go, but a body isn't visible.

Capt. Brian Cantrell, the head of the criminal investigation division of the Waller County Sheriff's Department, said at the Monday press conference that her death "was a tragic incident, not one of criminal intent or a criminal act" and that he welcomed the investigation.

Despite the medical examiner's ruling, a number of supporters and activists insist Bland was upbeat and looking forward to a new job at Waller County's Prairie View A&M University, from which she graduated in 2009. She was in the area last week to interview for the job, which she accepted. Bland's family and clergy members have called for a Justice Department probe, and an independent autopsy has been ordered.

"I believe she was murdered," said her friend Alex de la Cruz. "I believe that even if she did commit suicide, that there's a possibility that maybe she was coerced into it or forced somehow. She didn't commit suicide of her own volition."

Bland's case has resonated on social media, with posts questioning the official account and featuring the hashtags #JusticeForSandy and #WhatHappenedToSandyBland. Others have featured #SandySpeaks, referring to the hashtag she used for monologues she posted on Facebook. In them, she talked about police brutality and what she said was a calling from God to speak out against racism and injustice.

Cantrell said the camera outside Bland's cell was motion sensitive, meaning it stops recording if nothing takes place after a certain amount of time. The FBI has been given hard drives to determine if there was any manipulation of the recording, he said.

Al Jazeera and wire services

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