Sandra Bland was pulled over by a Texas state trooper on July 10th for failing to signal a lane change. She was arrested, charged with assaulting an officer, and on July 13th she was found hanged to death in her jail cell.
Sandra’s death occurred in an environment already charged with the Ferguson riots and the Black Lives Matter movement, and in the last month there has arisen a national furor over the apparent misconduct of the state trooper that pulled her over, the alleged cause for her arrest, and the baffling series of events that escalated a routine traffic stop into incarceration and death.
While the theories surrounding Sandra’s arrest run the gamut to conspiracy and murder, the fact that seems to be acknowledged across racial and party lines is that Sandra Bland was mistreated by the police.
At a hearing of the County Affairs Committee within the Texas House of Representatives, liberals and conservatives alike grilled the head of the Texas Department of Public Safety over Sandra’s treatment. “Liberties were stomped on,” said Tea Party-backed Republican representative Jonathan Strickland to the department head, “Do you understand the outrage on this issue?”
Presently, a unit of the Department of Public Safety is working with the FBI to investigate the circumstances of Sandra’s death, and an independent investigation initiated by the Waller County district attorney is also looking into possible criminal activity by the law enforcement involved.
However, as seen in the high profile criminal trials following the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner at the hands of police, many cases against law enforcement tend to result in no convictions or relatively minor punishment for the officers charged.
Regardless of the outcomes of the criminal investigations into Sandra’s death, the present facts of her case have the makings of a strong civil lawsuit that can have a considerable impact on the Texas Department of Public Safety, and do a tremendous amount of good for Sandra’s family.
A civil lawsuit would not land anyone in jail, but it could discipline the Waller County jail where Sandra was incarcerated and the Department of Public Safety in the form of heavy financial penalties. These funds would then be awarded to the Bland family as compensation for their loss.
Public Safety director Steven McCraw has already stated that the trooper that arrested Sandra violated department procedure, and failed to deescalate the situation by threatening Sandra with the use of his stun gun.
While the Harris County medical examiner has ruled Sandra’s death a suicide, Waller County jail has already received a citation for improperly monitoring its inmates by the Texas Commission on Jail Standards.
Sandra told authorities at Waller County jail that she had attempted suicide in the past, and according to sheriff Glenn Smith, this admission should have placed her on suicide watch. Suicide watch status would have resulted in closer monitoring, and it could have saved her life.
According to the County Affairs Committee chairman Garnet Coleman, Sandra Bland’s incarceration was a catalyst in her death.
On Tuesday Sandra’s family filed a wrongful death lawsuit on her behalf. We are hopeful that her family finds justice, and that their civil lawsuit is able to hit these negligent institutions where it hurts—in their pockets.
Sources: Barr, Alice, “Texas: Trooper in traffic stop violated policy,” USA Today, 22 July 2015.
Dobuzinskis, Alex, “Texas trooper who arrested Sandra Bland had been warned over conduct,” Reuters, 1 August 2015.
Montgomery, David, “Texas Trooper’s Behavior Called ‘Catalyst’ in Sandra Bland’s Death,” New York Times, 30 July 2015.
Siemaszko, Corky, “Sandra Bland’s family accuses Texas Trooper Brian Encinia of ‘wanton conduct’ in wrongful death lawsuit,” New York Daily News, 4 August 2015.