Cops question mental health
BY MOLLY HENNESSY-FISKE,
MICHAEL MUSKAL AND
LOS ANGELES TIMES /TNS
HOUSTON – Sandra Bland, who died in a Texas cell three days after her arrest during a traffic stop, told jailers that she had previously tried to commit suicide by taking pills because she had lost a baby, according to booking documents released Wednesday.
The documents were made public as officials investigated whether Bland killed herself July 13 in the Waller County Jail, where she was being held on a felony charge of assaulting a state trooper who had pulled her over in Prairie View, Texas.
Her family and friends have insisted that that the 28-year-old Illinois woman was upbeat about getting a new job in Prairie View and would never have taken her own life.
The family lawyer, Cannon Lambert, told reporters at a televised news conference Wednesday that there is no evidence Bland had ever attempted suicide or been treated for depression.
Texas officials were trying to shift the focus away from the contentious arrest on July 10 that started the chain of events that led to the discovery of Bland’s body in the cell three days later, he said.
Cops filled out forms
Law enforcement officials had briefed local lawmakers about the jail documents Tuesday, and the substance was reported in the local press. On Wednesday, the county prosecutor’s office released the documents after inquiries from the media.
Question 14 asks if the woman being arrested had ever attempted suicide and if so, when, why and how. Bland responded to the screening officer that she had attempted suicide “in 2015, lost baby, by taking pills.”
The form also notes that Bland did not seem confused, preoccupied, sad or paranoid when she was interviewed.
The documents make no mention of any special monitoring arrangements or suicide watch. Bland was given a security designation of “medium assaultive-escape” two steps below a “high” security designation and one step below “close custody.”
Inconsistencies in forms
Sharon Cooper, Bland’s sister, told CNN she was unaware of any suicide attempt by her sister and questioned the jail documents. “I have a hard time dealing with the inconsistencies and that seems to be the theme of the last few days here,” she said.
“There are even more questions that have come out of Texas than when we went down there,” Lambert said at a televised news conference Wednesday afternoon.
“We take issue with the notion she was suffering from depression,” said Lambert, who also discounted reports that Bland was suicidal or was taking medication for physical or emotional conditions.
“Everybody has hills and valleys. There is no medication, no epilepsy.
“Her medical history is not the issue,” said the lawyer. “It is an attempt to divert attention from the real issue. This happened because an officer was overzealous.”
‘Don’t trust it’
LaVaughn Mosley, 57, of Prairie View, knew Bland for years, hosted her during her visit, spoke to her by phone at the jail before she died and said he never heard her mention the previous suicide attempt.
“I don’t trust it,” Mosley said of the documents. “Why is it coming out now, when it fits their story? It’s fishy.”
He noted that Bland had been living in the Chicago area, so he wasn’t sure what she had been through during the past year. But if she had previously attempted suicide, “that doesn’t mean she killed herself, even if it’s true.”
“And if she did check that, why wasn’t she on suicide watch? Why were they not checking her carefully? She was in the custody of the jail,” he said.
“My questions won’t be answered until we find out what happened here in Waller County,” he said.
Earlier Wednesday, Lambert dismissed actions by Texas officials, including the release of a corrected dashboard video of the arrest.
On Tuesday, the Texas Department of Public Safety had posted a video containing glitches, prompting questions about whether the video had been altered or edited. Texas officials denied any editing and blamed the glitches on problems uploading the video.
The new video is about three minutes shorter than the original footage released a day earlier. It did not contain two key glitches which had prompted a flurry of speculation over the original video – footage that appeared to be missing or repeated at around minute 25 and minute 33.
Instead, it appeared to show a continuous record of the July 10 roadside encounter that preceded Bland’s arrest in the small town of Prairie View, northwest of Houston.
The video has come under intense scrutiny because the incident that began with a seemingly routine traffic stop ended with Bland’s death three days later in her jail cell. Sheriff’s officials have said her death was a suicide.
The dash-cam video in Trooper Brian T. Encinia’s car, originally released Tuesday, showed an angry, escalating confrontation after the officer initially pulled Bland over for failing to signal a lane change.
By the time it was over, Bland was roughly removed from her car, handcuffed on the ground and arrested on suspicion of assaulting a public servant, a felony charge.
In a statement mailed to reporters Wednesday morning, Tom Vinger, press secretary for the Texas Department of Public Safety, said the dash-cam video was unedited and blamed the glitches in the original video on technology.
Two sides clash
The two videos and the flurry of questions added more confusion to a case that has already ignited passions on all sides.
Vinger noted the sensitivity of the dash-cam video and a second video showing the last hours in the Waller County jail where Bland was being held. There is no video of what happened inside her cell, but the jailhouse video depicts activity outside the cell and helps provide a timeline leading to discovery of the body.
“To eliminate any concerns as to the efficacy of the video, DPS previously requested the FBI examine the dash-cam and jail video to ensure the integrity of the video,” Vinger said.
The FBI in Houston on Wednesday said it is reviewing the case.
“We are coordinating with all of the involved agencies. At this time, we are monitoring the ongoing local investigation. Once the local process takes its course, the FBI will review all of the evidence to determine if any federal criminal laws may have been violated,” said a statement from the FBI’s Houston Division.
Staff writers Ryan Parker, Christine Mai-Duc and Christina Littlefield in Los Angeles contributed to this report.