The Texas Department of Public Safety / Reuters

Texas sheriff says Bland mentioned previous suicide attempt

Sandra Bland, a black woman from Chicago, died under disputed circumstances in a Texas jail cell three days after arrest

Sandra Bland, the woman whose death in a Texas jail has raised suspicions about the official conclusion that she hanged herself, told a guard during the booking process that she had tried to kill herself in the past, the sheriff said Wednesday.

But the attorney representing Bland's family, Cannon Lambert, said relatives have no evidence that she ever attempted suicide or had been treated for depression.

Waller County Sheriff Glenn Smith told The Associated Press that Sandra Bland told a jailer about the previous suicide attempt sometime after her arrest on July 10.

Bland provided the information while being asked a series of questions posed to each person booked into the jail in Hempstead, about 60 miles northwest of Houston, the sheriff said.

He did not provide details about the conversation, but the booking sheet released by the district attorney's office appears to show that Bland said she attempted suicide by taking pills.

A second jailer also interviewed Bland, according to the sheriff. The 28-year-old from the Chicago area said she was not depressed but was upset about her arrest, which occurred following a confrontation with a white officer who had stopped her for a minor traffic violation.

The booking documents show that Bland told officials that she had epilepsy and that she was taking the anti-epileptic drug Keppra. But the documents also contain discrepancies. In another document, one that was to be filled out by the inmate and that contains Bland's signature, “no” is circled by the question asking if she's currently on any medication.

Smith says both jailers who spoke with Bland, who was black, insisted that she appeared fine when being booked on a charge of assaulting a public servant.

Bland's body was found three days later in her cell. Authorities say she hanged herself using a plastic liner taken from a garbage can.

Her family has said she was looking forward to starting a new job at her alma mater, Prairie View A&M University.

In suburban Chicago, Bland's relatives held a news conference to discuss video of the arrest taken from the officer's dashcam, which shows him drawing a stun gun and threatening Bland when she refuses to follow his orders.

"I simply feel like the officer was picking on her. Point-blank, period. I personally think that it's petty," Sharon Cooper, Bland’s sister, told reporters, adding that she thinks he got angry because "his ego was bruised."

Bland's family also says she was not acting suicidal. Family attorney Cannon Lambert said Wednesday that Bland had just bought groceries and was ecstatic about her new job when she was pulled over.

Lambert said the family had no indication that Bland was ever treated for epilepsy. 

Her body was flown back to Chicago in preparation for a funeral on Saturday.

The video posted online Tuesday by the Texas Department of Public Safety shows the trooper, who is white, stopping Bland for failing to signal a lane change. After he hands her a written warning, the trooper remarks that Bland seems irritated. The Illinois woman replies that she is irritated because she had changed lanes to make way for the trooper's car.

The conversation quickly turns hostile when the officer asks Bland to put out her cigarette and she asks why she can't smoke in her own car. The trooper then orders Bland to get out of the vehicle. She refuses, and he tells her she is under arrest.

Further refusals to get out bring a threat from the trooper to drag her out. He then pulls out a stun gun and makes the threat about lighting Bland up.

Her death comes after nearly a year of heightened national scrutiny of police and their dealings with black suspects, especially those who have been killed by officers or die in police custody.

In response to questions about gaps and overlaps in the video, authorities said the footage was not edited or manipulated.

Tom Vinger, a spokesman for the Department of Public Safety, said glitches occurred in the recording when it was uploaded for public viewing. He said the agency will repost the video.

The trooper, who has been on the force for just over a year, has been placed on administrative leave for violating unspecified police procedures and the Department of Public Safety's courtesy policy. The agency would not address questions about whether the trooper acted appropriately by drawing his stun gun or trying to pull Bland out of the vehicle.

Al Jazeera and wire services

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