Houston representative aims to create Sandra Bland Act

Lawsuit led to changes at Waller County Jail after Sandra Bland's death

HOUSTON – Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, said he wants to extend the changes forced by the lawsuit over Sandra Bland’s death to jails across the state.

Bland was found dead in her Waller County jail cell last year after she was arrested during a traffic stop. An autopsy found that she committed suicide.

Her family sued Waller County. In a settlement announced last week, the county’s jail will now be required to have a nurse on duty at all times and install electronic sensors to make sure guards are checking on inmates.

In a hearing Tuesday, Coleman questioned representatives from the Texas Department of Public Safety, who denied any systemic problems of racial profiling within the department.

Coleman said he wants those provisions to be part of the Sandra Bland Act, which would be applicable for every county in the state.

“We’re looking at telemedicine, as well as mental health authorities and EMS,” Coleman said. “That’s part of the settlement with Waller County. We’ll look at that at a general way for all 253 other counties.”

Coleman said he also wants to review racial profiling practices, not as they are written as a law, but how they're actually used today. For example, he wants to ban “pretext stops” – using a minor violation to stop a person to investigate a separate offense.

“Those pretext stops are legal, but usually move into other circumstances for African Americans, where they are either searched or ticketed or put in jail particularly in comparison to Anglos that are stopped,” Coleman said.

Coleman said he also wants to work with jails to make sure costs don’t go through the roof for any of the recommendations he hopes to make.

Coleman said he’ll be presenting his proposed act later Tuesday morning at the House County Affairs Committee in Austin.

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