Sandra Bland's autopsy results released; DA confirms suicide by hanging

By Sara Donchey - Anchor/Reporter, The Associated Press

WALLER COUNTY, Texas - The Waller County District Attorney has released autopsy results in the death of Sandra Bland, a 28-year-old woman who died while in police custody after being arrested during a traffic stop.  After Bland was found dead in her jail cell, many suspected that foul play was involved.  At a press conference on Thursday, Waller County prosecutor Warren Diepraam confirmed the death as suicide by hanging.

Diepraam said the medical examiner viewed Bland's eyelids, eyeballs and overall face.  There were no injuries consistent with struggle.  There was, however, a bruise on Bland's neck consistent with suicide.  Had it been a violent struggle, the mark would not have been consistent or uniform, he said.  During a violent struggle, the pathologist explained one would see hemorrhaging in the neck and trachea area.  There were no injuries indicating a violent struggle.

According to Diepraam, there were superficial abrasions on Bland's right shoulder blade.  Those were consistent with someone applying pressure to her back, or with her applying force against some other object.  Those marks do not reveal who placed them.  There was a portion of a leaf found in a scab on her back.  

There were cut marks on her left arm and at least 30 cut marks on left wrist, in a state of healing with scarring or scabbing, indicating they were placed on her wrists weeks before the arrest.

The autopsy also showed that Bland had marijuana in her system. 

"We have no idea where she may have ingested the marijuana. It could hypothetically, it's hypothetically possible that it could have been smoked in the jail. Ther sheriff has searched the jail cell for any indication of smoking inside the jail, and found no evidence whatsoever," said Diepraam. 

The prosecutor said the timeline of how Bland ingested the marijuana is an important part into the investigation of her death. 

"It may be relevant as to her state of mind to determine what happened on the street," said Diepraam. "It may be relevant to her state of mind to determine how or why she committed suicide. It is a mind-altering substance, and a mood amplifier as I indicated previously. So any ideations or thoughts that's in a person's mind at the time of smoking the marijuana could be amplified by the use of marijuana."

A test known as a chromotography will reveal the amount of marijuana in Bland's system, which will help investigators piece together when she used it. 

The question remains as to why Bland was not on suicide watch.

Documents obtained by KPRC 2 News show that Bland told Waller County jailers she had tried to kill herself using pills after she lost a baby in 2014. But Bland's family says there is "no evidence" that she previously attempted suicide.

Bland's family and friends dispute the finding.

Waller County Sheriff Glenn Smith told The Associated Press on Wednesday that the 28-year-old had told a guard about a previous suicide attempt while being asked a series of questions posed to each person booked into the jail.

But also on the booking sheet questionnaire, Bland answered 'No' to questions about whether she had thoughts of killing herself in the last year or if she had thoughts about killing herself that day.

Sources told KPRC 2 that the jailers did not feel she was a threat or depressed after observing her and did not put her on suicide watch.

Amin Alehashem, director of the Houston office of the Texas Civil Rights Project says the jail's screening process appears to have failed. 

"The questions about suicide on those jail intake forms are there for a reason.  And that is to identify people who are at risk, of committing harm, especially to themselves.  There's a constitutional duty for the county or the state, once it has you in custody, to protect you from harm, even from yourself," Alehashem said. 

A jailer who was the last to talk with Bland before her body was found in her cell on the morning of July 13, told Channel 2 News she showed no signs of depression during the three days she was held there.

The deputy, who asked that his identity not be revealed, said he stopped by to check on Bland around 7 a.m. that morning and remembered their conservation as lighthearted.

"I said have you been eating?"

"Kinda, sorta, not really." Bland responded.

"So, I jokingly said, you better start eating woman, cause you can't afford to lose no weight. You ain't as big as a minute. And we both laughed just like that. She laughed with a little smirk. And I went on the rest of my rounds."

Another deputy found Bland's lifeless body in her cell about two hours later. Investigators say she'd fashioned a noose out of a plastic garbage bag, and hanged herself while still seated. Her death was ruled a suicide, but is still under investigation by Texas Rangers and the Waller County district attorney.

When asked about the admission of a previous suicide attempt, Cannon Lambert, an attorney representing Bland's relatives, said "this family has no evidence that is the case."

Bland's arrest followed a confrontation with a state trooper who had stopped her for a minor traffic violation in Prairie View July 10. 


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