Preliminary autopsy results show Sandra Bland's death was a suicide, prosecutor says
Guards found Bland's body nearly two hours after someone last checked on her
In the days leading up to Sandra Bland’s death, she wasn’t eating and was emotional, a former jail mate said.
Alexandria Pyle , who was in a neighboring cell at the Waller County Jail in Texas, said Bland was upset because her bond was set at $5,000 and no one was returning her jailhouse calls.
“She wasn’t eating and when I did talk to her, she was just crying and crying and all I could say was they could not hold you forever,” Pyle said.
Citing preliminary autopsy results, the Waller County prosecutor told reporters that the cause of Bland’s death was hanging and that she had committed suicide. There were no signs of a struggle.
Prosecutor Warren Diepraam said the early results offered “very overwhelming evidence,” but stressed that the case is not closed.
“I feel comfortable that their findings are correct, but there’s still a lot of information out there so we’re not forming any conclusions at this point,” he said. “Nothing is certain.”
The results of the preliminary autopsy concur with how the sheriff’s office described Bland’s death.
Jail personnel found her not breathing and hanging from a trash bag on the morning of July 13. The sheriff’s office said it “appears to be self-inflicted asphyxiation.”
Waller County Sheriff R. Glenn Smith also weighed in. “There is absolutely no doubt in my mind (Bland committed suicide),” he said.
Suicide or something else?
Still, Bland’s family and friends remain steadfast in their belief that she had too much to live for and never would have taken her own life.
Theresa Dear – a long-time minister at DuPage AME Church outside Chicago, which Bland attended growing up – noted that, as Bland tried to get money to post $5,000 bail, she had a bright future to look forward to and looked likely to be released soon.
“How could someone go from a place of being excited about the future to now wanting to take their own life?” Dear said, accusing officials of selectively putting out “crumbs and morsels,” but not the full story. “We, as a family and a community who love Sandra Bland, do not accept … this narrative that the Texas authorities are putting in the media that she had suicidal tendencies.”
Jailhouse documents give a conflicting picture of Bland’s mental state.
A form that appeared to be filled out by hand after her arrest states that Bland tried to overdose with pills in 2014 after losing a baby. And there are check marks next to “yes” on questions about depression and suicidal thoughts.
Yet a separate document, which appears to be from a computer, has “no” answers next to questions about mental illness and attempted suicide. The apparent discrepancy hasn’t been explained.
“I have a hard time dealing with inconsistency and that seems to have been the theme over the last couple of days here,” Bland’s sister, Sharon Cooper said.
State report: Jail that held Bland did not make timely checks
The same day preliminary results were released, CNN obtained a report that shows guards in the jail that held Bland violated policies by failing to do timely checks on inmates.
The formulaic, two-page “special inspection report” from the Texas Commission on Jail Standards does not mention Bland by name. But it was filed on July 16, three days after Bland’s body was found in her cell, a death that authorities characterized as a suicide, but that family, friends and their supporters think is suspicious.
A timeline from the Waller County Sheriff’s Office of what’s seen in video from the jail states that a male guard stopped and briefly talked with Bland shortly after 7 a.m., but no one came back to check on her until 8:55 a.m.
That’s when jail personnel found her not breathing and hanged with a trash bag from a metal barrier that separated the bathroom from the rest of her cell, a death the sheriff’s office said “appears to be self-inflicted asphyxiation.”
The state report notes that there should be a “visual, face-to-face observation of all inmates by jailers no less than once every 60 minutes.” Not nearly two hours, as was the case in Bland.
Nearly two hours went by in the case of Bland.
In fact, the inspection report found that “documentation … revealed that Waller County is not completing (such checks) as required by Minimum Jail Standards.”
That’s not the only apparent violation.
The same report states county officials didn’t provide proof that jail staff had two hours of annual training with “the local mental health authorities … in accordance with their approved Mental Disabilities/Suicide Prevention Plan.”
“The training is to include the recognition, supervision, documentation and handling of inmates who are mentally disabled and/or potentially suicidal,” it says.
Friend: ‘Something went terribly wrong’
Another thing that has angered Bland’s supporters, and raised their suspicions even more, is how and why she was arrested in the first place.
The charge she faced was assault on a public servant. Yet this only happened after she was pulled over for allegedly failing to use her turn signal on July 10.
What started as a seemingly normal conversation got testy after Texas state Trooper Brian Encinia asked Bland to put out her cigarette.
She asks why, at which point the officer tells Bland to get out of the car. She refuses, and dashcam video shows the officer reaching in, threatening Bland with a Taser: “I will light you up!”
At that point the officer tells Bland to get out of the car. She refuses, and dashcam video shows the officer reaching in, threatening Bland with a Taser: “I will light you up!”
In his arrest warrant affidavit, Encinia wrote that Bland became “combative and uncooperative” and that she was placed in handcuffs “for officer safety.”
Bland’s family doesn’t think the traffic stop over a turn signal should have escalated to an arrest.
“I simply feel like the officer was picking on her, and I believe that is petty,” her sister Sharon Cooper told CNN’s “Erin Burnett OutFront.”
LaVaughn Mosley, who says Bland left him a voicemail after her arrest indicating she was “at a loss for words” but not hinting about suicide, said it is all a shame – especially her death.
“Here is a young black female who was on her way to being successful,” Mosley said. “I don’t know what happened in that jailhouse, but obviously something went terribly wrong.”
CNN’s Mary Helen Moore, Shawn Nottingham, Ryan Young, Jason Morris, Dana Ford and Greg Botelho contributed to this report.