Bland’s death been ruled a suicide by the Harris County Medical Examiner’s Office, a finding that supporters and relatives dispute. Her family and others have called for a Justice Department probe and an independent autopsy.
“This was not a case of suicide but homicide,” the Rev. Jamal Bryant of the Empowerment Temple AME Church of Baltimore said Monday.
The Department of Public Safety said the trooper who stopped Bland violated traffic stop procedures and the department’s courtesy policy but hasn’t elaborated further. The trooper is on administrative leave, pending the outcome of an investigation.
Bland may have been trying to text or email in the moments after she was pulled over for an improper lane change, Mathis said.
“Sandra Bland was very combative,” he said. “It was not a model traffic stop ... and it was not a model person that was stopped on a traffic stop. I think the public can make its own determinations as to the behaviors that are seen in the video.”
The video from the jail shows no activity in the hallway leading to her cell for about 90 minutes until an officer goes to check on her. It shows a deputy reacting to what she sees while looking in the cell, triggering a frenzy of activity involving other deputies. An EMT crew arrives with a wheeled stretcher. The video does not show the inside of her cell or even her cell door. Deputies and medical personnel are seen coming and going, but a body isn’t visible.
Capt. Brian Cantrell, the head of the criminal investigation division of the Sheriff’s Department, said the video was motion sensitive, so if nothing moves in the camera’s field after a certain amount of time, it turns off. He said the FBI has been given hard drives to determine if there was any manipulation of the video.
Cantrell said that a guard checked on Bland about two hours before she was found dead and that Bland told her, “I’m fine.” About an hour later, she asked to make a telephone call from her cell and was advised the phone was on a wall in the cell, according to Cantrell. There is no record of her making a phone call, he said.
Mathis also said jail records show Bland was offered a medical checkup but declined.
Cantrell declined to describe Bland’s death in detail. He described the plastic garbage bag used as a ligature by extending his hands about 5 to 6 feet apart.
The bags, he said, had been approved by a jail inspector but have since been removed from all cells.
Relatives and friends have insisted Bland was upbeat and looking forward to a new job at Prairie View A&M University, the school from which she graduated in 2009. She was in the area to interview for the job and accepted it.
Mathis said the trooper’s dashcam video doesn’t provide a complete view of the arrest. It shows a view forward toward Bland’s car but not inside and not to the side, where she wound up on the ground after authorities said she kicked the officer.
“It doesn’t show how she got on the ground,” Cantrell said.
Al Jazeera with The Associated Press