HEMPSTEAD, Texas — Newly released video showing the arrest of a woman who later died in police custody has added fuel to the fire over the controversy surrounding her death.
The dashcam video reveals how a Texas state trooper initially pulled Sandra Bland over for allegedly failing to use her turn signal and how the situation then escalated.
While Bland’s jailhouse death is being handled in the manner of a murder investigation, authorities in Texas initially said the 28-year-old woman appeared to have killed herself.
Bland was arrested July 10 and accused of assaulting an officer after a traffic stop, police said. A trooper pulled her over for allegedly failing to signal a lane change.
During the stop, Bland became “argumentative and uncooperative,” according to the Texas Department of Public Safety.
An attorney for her family, Cannon Lambert, told CNN that the officer asked Bland to get out of her car after she refused to put out her cigarette. The officer opened the driver’s side door and asked Bland to get out, he said.
The video shows the Texas trooper threaten Bland with a Taser and say: “I will light you up!”
Cell phone video purporting to show part of Bland’s arrest was posted online. CNN could not verify the video was of Bland’s arrest, but Lambert said there was “little reason to believe that it’s not her.”
The video shows an officer using his knee to hold a woman down on the ground. The woman is heard saying that she can’t “feel my arm” and that the trooper “slammed my f—— head to the ground.”
Sharon Cooper, one of Bland’s sisters, told CNN that preliminary autopsy results showed her sibling suffered “deep tissue bruising to her back” consistent with someone pushing a knee into her back.
Waller County paramedics were called to the scene of her arrest, but Bland refused a medical evaluation before she was booked, according to the Public Safety Department.
Asked about reports that Bland kicked the trooper before her arrest, Lambert said: “It’s not characteristic that she would voluntarily and without any sort of provocation strike out at someone.”
Who was Sandra Bland?
She had graduated from the historically black college in 2009 and was returning there as a student ambassador, according to family members.
In the weeks before her death in police custody, Bland regularly used the #SandySpeaks hashtag to post videos on Facebook in which she denounced police brutality and racism.
“Being a black person in America is very, very hard,” she said in a video posted in April. “At the moment black lives matter. They matter.”
How did Bland end up dead in her cell?
Bland was found dead in a Waller County jail cell on July 13 after she hanged herself with a plastic trash bag, authorities said.
There were no cameras inside Bland’s cell, but cameras in the hallway outside showed no one entering or leaving before her body was discovered, Waller County District Attorney Elton Mathis said.
Bland was found “in her cell not breathing from what appears to be self-inflicted asphyxiation,” a Sheriff’s Office statement said. Bland received CPR, and an ambulance was called, but she was pronounced dead a short time later.
At 8 a.m. that morning, Bland apparently asked to make a phone call from her cell, the Sheriff’s Office said. There is no record of her making a call.
Bland was found at 9 a.m., hanging in her cell, according to the Sheriff’s Office.
Those who knew Bland question that she would commit suicide.
“To know Sandy was to love her,” Bland’s sister Sharon Cooper said. “She was someone who was extremely spontaneous, spunky, outgoing, truly filled with life and joy. So when you think through the circumstances shared with us through this point, this is unimaginable.”
But investigators were examining online videos posted by Bland in March in which she talked about battling depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, according to Mathis.
Cooper said that her sister hadn’t been diagnosed with either depression or PTSD and that her video message was intended to be inspirational to people feeling the same way.
What is happening next?
The investigation is being treated like a murder investigation, Mathis said.
“There are too many questions that still need to be resolved,” he said.
The Texas Rangers and the FBI are investigating Bland’s death. The case will go to a grand jury.
“The death of Sandra Bland will not be swept under the rug,” Mathis said. “There will be no one who is protected. … The truth will come out.”
The Texas Department of Public Safety said in a statement that the officer involved in Bland’s arrest was assigned to administrative duties pending an investigation.
“We have identified violations of the department’s procedures regarding traffic stops and the department’s courtesy policy,” the department said in the statement.
“A DPS state trooper has an obligation to exhibit professionalism and be courteous throughout the entire contact, and that wasn’t the case in this situation,” Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw said Tuesday.