Questions over woman's death in Waller County Jail

By Syan Rhodes - Anchor/Reporter, Phil Archer - Reporter

WALLER COUNTY, Texas - The FBI has entered the investigation of a female inmate who was found dead in her cell in the Waller County Jail on Monday morning.

Waller County D. A. Elton Mathis said Sandra Bland, 28, was discovered at 9:07 a.m. Monday after she used a plastic garbage bag as a noose to hang herself from an overhead partition inside her cell. Bland was in the cell alone. Her death was ruled a suicide by the Harris County medical examiner Thursday. 

Protesters rallied outside the jail Friday, asking for answers into the woman's death.

While many of the supporters did not know Bland personally, LaVaughn Mosley did. He said he actually got a phone call from inside the jail a few days ago.

"Bland called me on Friday evening about 10:25 to inform me that she had been arrested and that she was being held here at the Waller County Jail," Mosley said.

He said they talked about posting bond.

"We did discuss trying to make arrangements, whenever they set bail, to post bail," said Mosley.

Mathis said there were no cameras inside the cell, but that cameras monitoring the hallways showed that no one who might have done her harm went in or out of Bland's cell before her body was discovered.

Mathis said investigators were also looking into videos that surfaced Thursday, allegedly posted by Bland last March, in which she is heard talking about her struggles with depression and PTSD.

But her friends and family said the circumstances of Bland's death, and the arrest itself, just don't add up.

"We all want to know how did a simple traffic stop end up with the death of a young black woman who was just trying to move on in life?" said friend LaVaughn Mosely.

The family's attorney, Cannon Lambert Sr., said at a press conference in Chicago Thursday, "We don't understand this. It doesn't make sense. And because it doesn't make sense, we need to make certain that they can get to a place where it does make sense."

Bland's death is under investigation by the Texas Rangers. Mathis said her mother will travel to Hempstead Monday to meet with them.

Bland was a 2009 graduate of Prairie View A&M and had just accepted a job at the university, a job that would have started Wednesday.

On Friday afternoon, a Department of Public Safety trooper pulled over Brand's Hyundai on University Blvd., in Prairie View, for failure to signal a lane change. DPS said Brand was "argumentative and uncooperative."

She was arrested for assault on a public servant.

A YouTube video purportedly shows Bland's arrest.


A witness to the arrest, Renee McKnight, came out of the barber shop across the street where she works after a customer alerted her to the arrest.

She said she walked out after Bland was handcuffed and just as Bland and the officer fell to the ground.

"When they fell on the ground, he got on top of her and was telling her she needs (to) calm down, and she was cussing him and telling him he threw a woman on the ground, and slammed her on the ground," McKnight said. "I can't say he was being rough with her, because I did see her trying to restrain her. And of course, she was trying to get up and was struggling with him, so I can't say he was being rough or wasn't being rough."

DPS on Friday said it has identified "violations of the department's procedures regarding traffic stops and the department's courtesy policy."

The trooper involved has been assigned to administrative duties, pending the outcome of the FBI and Texas Rangers investigation, according to DPS.

DPS also said its video of the arrest will be reviewed during the investigation and then released to the public at some point.

Brand refused a medical review by EMS and was then booked into the Waller County Jail.

Friends said she had been in contact with them and was awaiting her bond hearing.

Then on Monday morning, jailers found her not breathing as a result of self-asphyxiation.

The Sheriff's Office said CPR was administered, and emergency crews were called, but she was pronounced dead.

In a statement, the sheriff called this a tragic incident, but her friends said Bland would not have killed herself.

"Anyone who knows Sandy Bland knows she has a thirst for life. She was planning for the future, and she came here to start that future, so to say she killed herself is totally absurd," Mosley said.

The Waller County district attorney said he also has questions.

"I will admit it is strange someone who had everything going for her would have taken her own life. That's why it's very important a thorough investigation is done and that we get a good picture of what Ms. Bland was going through the last four or five days of her life," said Mathis. 

On Friday, the Texas Commission on Jail Standards confirmed to KPRC 2 News that it did issue a "notice of non-compliance" to Waller County Jail in two areas: observation of inmates and training.

Late Thursday, stories surfaced on the Daily Kos and Slate websites, alleging Sheriff Glenn Smith was dismissed in 2008 as Hempstead chief of police after he and other officers were accused of racist behavior.

Smith responded, saying those allegations arose after he'd declared his intention to run for sheriff and were politically motivated.

"I am not a racist," Smith said at a Thursday press conference. "Black lives matter to Glenn Smith."

Smith said two of the Hempstead City Council members who made the accusations were later sent to federal prison after being convicted of bribery.  ?

A prayer vigil for Bland is scheduled for 3 p.m. Sunday at Hope AME Church near Prairie View A&M.

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