HEMPSTEAD, Texas — Texas authorities on Monday released a three-hour video taken from outside a jail cell where an Illinois woman arrested during a traffic stop was found dead.
The video from a motion-operated camera shows there was no activity for 90 minutes in the hallway leading to the cell where authorities say 28-year-old Sandra Bland was found hanged on July 13, three days after her arrest.
Authorities also said dashcam video of Bland’s arrest is expected to be released Tuesday. Waller County District Attorney Elton Mathis said Monday the video is consistent with information the officer has provided about the traffic stop. The Texas Department of Public Safety has said Bland was arrested after she allegedly kicked an officer.
But Mathis cautioned that the dashcam video shows only restricted views of the stop in Prairie View, Texas.
The Chicago-area black woman’s death at the Waller County jail in Hempstead, about 60 miles northwest of Houston, comes amid increased national scrutiny of police after a series of high-profile cases in which blacks have been killed by officers. The FBI and the Texas Rangers are investigating.
“This investigation is still being treated just as it would be a murder investigation,” Mathis said.
Bland’s death has been ruled a suicide by the Harris County Medical Examiner’s Office, a finding that supporters and relatives dispute. Bland’s family and others have called for a Justice Department probe and an independent autopsy.
“This was not a case of suicide, but homicide,” Rev. Jamal Bryant, of the Empowerment Temple AME Church of Baltimore, said earlier Monday. He said he was in Hempstead at the Bland family’s request.
DPS has 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 Monday.
“Sandra Bland was very combative,” the district attorney 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 released Monday shows no activity in the hallway leading to Bland’s 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, head of the sheriff’s department criminal investigation division, said the video was motion sensitive, indicating if nothing is taking place after a certain amount of time, it turns off. He said the FBI has been given hard drives to determine if there’s been any manipulation.
Cantrell said a guard checked with Bland about two hours before she was found dead and 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 ever 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 she was upbeat and looking forward to a new job at Prairie View A&M University, the school where she graduated in 2009. She was in the area to interview for the job and accepted it.
Mathis also said the dashcam video doesn’t provide a complete view. The trooper’s dash cam 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.
BY MICHAEL GRACZYK, Associated Press