Sandra Bland’s “death by cop” − I reviewed the autopsy report, the booking documents, and available court documents.
• Time is only of the essence with regard to gathering evidence that can be destroyed, manipulated, despoiled, or that disappears over time. Time is NOT of the essence when it comes to making a conclusion about the manner of her death. As a journalist, I understand that the bottomless ‘news’ maw must be endlessly fed with ‘fresh content,’ even when it’s just speculation.
I won’t play that game.
• I am willing to consider suicide as the manner of death, despite the fact that there’s a history of using ‘suicide’ to mask murders (especially of Black people) that happen in police custody. But whether it was murder or suicide, the jail is on the hook. Her death was preventable, and she never should have been in custody.
• The jail used a risk assessment checklist to determine whether Sandra should have been in close custody. The facts that (1) she screamed, “I have epilepsy” during her arrest (something the arresting officer should have told the booking desk); (2) allegedly told the jailers she was being medicated for it; (3) that suicidal thoughts were a known side effect of her disclosed medication called Keppra; (4) she allegedly had attempted suicide before − were not considered. She could and should have been upgraded to a closer custody classification − which would have placed more burden on the jail staff to monitor her.
• This was all typical assembly-line justice. The arresting officer’s affidavit was a typical “cut & paste” job that makes out the prima facie criminal case without a lot of detail. I saw hundreds of these as a prosecutor, even when cops were using typewriters. Any judge looking at it would legally justify the arrest 100 percent of the time. The first appearance/bail hearing was a mere formality.
• Sandra had NO money in her possession when she was arrested (unless somebody at the booking desk stole her cash). Sounds like she took off from Chicago with no cash and maybe a debit/credit card, or spent all her cash on the way. Thus, a $5,000 bond must have seemed impossible to attain. She and her people may not have known that $500 could get her out − or they may just not have had it. Three days in jail under total control of a system you are fighting against must have seemed like an eternity.
• Every time I read an autopsy report − and I’ve read hundreds− I’m reminded of how physically and psychologically invasive the whole process is. Your body is literally cut open and microscopically examined. The entire world literally sees all your ‘flaws’ − some of which you may have spent an entire life trying to hide or cover. (Accompanying toxicology reports will take 4-6 weeks. That will be another batch of evidence to evaluate.)
• Many of the autopsy observations were “unremarkable,” meaning Sandra was “normal” and disease-free. As a 28-year-old, she probably had decades of life to live but for her tragic death that came, in my mind, as a consequence of an illegal arrest and an abuse of police discretion.
• The cause of death is listed as “hanging.” But it doesn’t indicate what the “hanging” death resulted from. Her neck wasn’t broken. Her throat wasn’t completely cut, so she didn’t bleed to death. There were no cartilage fractures. There was no indication she choked to death or that her airway was injured. Unless I’m missing something, “hanging” is a conclusion without a clear cause.
I’m also troubled by the grooves found in her neck. A knotted garbage bag did that? More like a rope. There’s no indication that her neck area was swabbed to determine whether fibers existed in the wound.
• The alleged “murder weapon” − the plastic bag − was provided to the medical examiner.
There’s no indication of its width, or that its width was compared to the 1/inch-3 inch wound in Sandra’s neck. Hopefully it will be independently tested.
Still lots of questions to be answered over time. Condolences to her family and friends as they grieve and fight…
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