Sandra Bland: Suicide or homicide? New evidence questions
By Mary L. Datcher, Special to the NNPA from The Chicago Defender
When a parent loses a child, it’s described as the deepest numbness that encompasses their being. It’s often brought on with a freight load of mixed emotions—guilt, anger, sadness, bitterness —grief. It doesn’t matter if you are the parent of a small child or an adult—the role rarely changes. This grief increases when a child is murdered or their passing is untimely, caused by a tragic situation.
On July 13th, 2015, Geneva Reed-Veal was notified of the worst news that a parent could possibly receive when her daughter, Sandra Bland, was found dead in the Waller County jail cell in Texas.
The story has been reported. So let’s recap.
The 28-year-old Naperville woman was pulled over for a routine traffic stop by Texas state trooper, Brian T. Encinia. She was in route to the local Walmart to shop for groceries. He cited her for changing lanes without using her turning signal. What was to be a warning, immediately escalated with the junior officer demanding that Bland put out her cigarette and to exit her vehicle. As shown on the video cam, Bland and the officer go back and forth with Sandra informing the officer of her rights. However, what was captured by a by-stander was Officer Encinia and another officer pushing Bland to the ground as they handcuffed her. The audio reveals Sandra swearing at the officers after they knocked her head to the ground. When she told them of her epileptic seizures, Officer Encinia angrily replies, ‘Good.’
Since her July 10th arrest on a third-degree felony charge of an assault on a public servant, there has been video footage released by the Waller County Jail officials, which contest allegations that she was murdered instead of the reported suicide on the morning of July 13th.
The moment that her alleged suicide was announced to the media and fact that she died in custody of a Texas county jail—it didn’t make sense. To the African American community, this was an unfortunate and constant reoccurrence of another Black person dying while in custody. Assumptions of foul play immediately lit up social media and brought serious questions to the surface – what really happened to Sandra Bland?
With a plethora of questions surrounding this case, a wrongful death lawsuit has been filed in Federal District Court in Houston by Sandra Bland’s family. The lawsuit named the Texas Department of Public Safety, Texas state trooper, Brian T. Encinia and two guards at the Waller County Jail, and claims Trooper Encinia had false reasons for the initial arrest. In addition, jailers failed to check on Bland when she refused meals and was uncontrollably crying.
Since the autopsy was released by the Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences, its findings coincidence with the injuries related to death by hanging. The autopsy was signed by Sara N. Doyle, the Assist-ant Medical Examiner on July 22.
There is some dissenting information when reading the autopsy, which has raised some eyebrows regarding the accounts which lead up to Bland’s death.
According to the autopsy report, on July 13, 2015 Sandra Annette Bland was pronounced dead at 9:06am in the Waller County Jail in cell 95, where she was found hanged. What was received with the body was a paper bag labeled “Trash Bag Used as ligature on 7-13-15 at 12:14 pm. Waller County Jail took into possession, a transparent plastic bag tied into a ligature, which is described as EVIDENCE OF INJURY.
On the Waller County Jail time stamped video, jailer Cynthia Whidden, (in a dark blue uniform) is seen going back to check on Bland’s cell and immediately walks towards another jailer indicating that some-thing is wrong. You see several officers approach Bland’s cell discovering her body.
In the custody death report, both jailers and deputies (tan uniformed officers) enter her cell. One holds Sandra’s body up while the other removes the ligature from around her neck then lays her on the floor to perform CPR. After, deputies attempted to revive Bland, EMS are brought in but she is pronounced dead at 9:06 a.m., which begs the question, why was the ligature put back on Bland’s neck and left there for three hours before sending her to the Houston medical examiner’s office? The possibility of tampering with the crime scene is being questioned. There was no movement in the hallway for 90 minutes based on the motion detected video camera inside the county jail.
This has created some major doubt regarding the original report and Austin, TX resident, David Fisher is an unofficial crusader, seeking to have all of these questions answered—honestly. He’s known as the “Buttinski”. Neither an attorney or licensed private investigator, but over the last 15 years he has carved a niche as a consultant many cases on to review corruption of county medical examiners. His nose for fraud and injustices within the Texas law enforcement system has allowed him entry into working with attorneys, county insiders and other investigators.
He believes the Houston medical examiner’s autopsy report can be disputed by the Bland family based on the unexplained accounts which were released by the Waller County Jail.
“This becomes a problem in the autopsy report. There’s a notation that strongly suggests that the ligature was replaced around Sandra Bland’s neck after she was pronounced dead and left on her neck for 3 hours,” Fisher said. “That would be a bomb. That is tampering and that is a third degree felony. This was intended for one purpose only – to make sure there was a mark on her neck; and further suggests that there wasn’t a mark on her neck when she was found.”
From the time that the Waller County Jail deputies were told by Bland that she had epileptic seizures, there was negligence in checking in on her, which is required. The Texas Commission on Jail Standards has revoked Waller County Jail’s certification.
This is the third time the facility has been warned about this violation. Waller County Jail officials are also at fault for not meeting state standards or mental health training.
In late July, an independent committee on the Bland case was formed by Waller County District Attorney, Elton Mathis. There are two African American lawyers assigned to investigate how the case has been handled by all involved including the Waller County Jail officials, Texas Rangers and the Harris County medical examiner’s office.
Both Darrell Jordan, a Houston attorney and Lewis White from the Sugar Land area along with two other attorneys have the power to subpoena witnesses.
They have been sent key documents and speculations by Fisher’s independent investigation, which includes investigating the Waller County Jail breakfast order, which may be critical in the case. It is routine to order inmate’s meals one day in advance.
“The sheriff goes through some detail pointing out that on the table beside her bed are sandwiches wrapped in cellophane and points out that this was her dinner that she didn’t eat from Sunday night.
He adds, “If she didn’t eat her breakfast, then the container wasn’t open, it should have been on the table with the sandwiches or on her bed. The video is good enough to count the number of boxes on that cart.” On the video, it shows a male officer serving inmates breakfast at 6:34am but it’s indicated that Bland refuses her meal. The video is also not clear that there is any actual exchange between the two without audio.
Another observation in review of the cell 95 was the odd oversized trash-can. During the media tour of Bland’s cell, the photo clearly shows a brown paper bag in which an untouched sandwich is still inside along with a styrofoam cup, an opened book laying on the bed along with an unused transparent trash bag hanging off the side of the black trash can. The sheriff informed the media that the janitorial service had come into the cell to replace the trash bag.
Fisher said this is a major amateur move, “The sheriff said janitor came in to replace the bag, so you better tell the media before you present it; that the cell was the crime scene and has not been altered. If the janitorial services came in, why is the cell not cleaned up? Why are there day old sandwiches still on her nightstand?,” he ponders.
According to the account of events—this is purely speculation. But, it raises grave concerns and the Waller County District Attorney’s office is taking each inquiry quite serious. The most incriminating evidence may be the trash bag used as a ‘hanging’ tool to allegedly precipitate Bland’s death. Apparently, Bland double tied the trash bag to create the ligature hanging it from the 2 inch bar supporting the privacy partition separating the toilet area within the cell. The Boy Scout signature style knot would require the skills of someone who has the ability to tie a sturdy and strong knot.
According to the Custodial Death Report, Waller County Jail officials contacted Texas Ranger Ellison who arrived at 10:37am for a briefing, then entered Bland’s cell at 10:39am. At 10:45am Justice of the Peace, Judge Karisch was notified, arriving Waller County Jail at 11:39am.
The Texas Rangers is a unit of the Department of Public Safety and currently working with the F.B.I. but Fisher has his misgivings of the elite group’s fairness in this investigation. Based on his experience working on the Rodney Reed case, an African American inmate on death row charged with the Capitol murder of Stacey Stite he has reason for his doubts. Fisher alleges the Texas Rangers are behind framing Reed and should be investigated regarding the mysterious self-inflicted death of a detective that was close to bringing forth evidence to implement Officer Jimmy Fennell. The detective was the former roommate of the unidentified Ranger.
Furthermore, the medical examiner’s assessment of marijuana found in Bland’s system may allegedly be connected to calming down a major seizure, according to Fisher’s account. His speculation leads to the possibility that the slamming of Bland’s head to the ground by Officer Encinia may have cause Bland to later have an epileptic seizure inducing a coma. “They may have attempted treatment of her off the books without notifying a doctor. Since it was up for such a big debate, it’s implied that marijuana can reduce a seizure,” Fisher said. It is a farfetched measure but one that Fisher doesn’t put past the Waller County Jail officials to save face in an incredibly disastrous situation.
According to David Fisher, he’s shared his conclusions with the independent committee, the president of the Houston NAACP Chapter and has made several attempts to contact the Bland family attorney, Cannon Lambert without success.
As it stands, the media coverage continues and speculations are being sorted through. The hope that there is ‘fair’ and ‘due’ process for justice is the ultimate goal for everyone involved. At a recent dinner for the 60th Anniversary Commemorating the Death of Emmett Till, Geneva Reed-Veal shared her thoughts with attendees.
“All of this is injustice against Blacks, so when I tell you I did not know devastation until now, my ‘new normal’–I don’t like it. But I’m going to keep speaking for my baby. All of you mothers in here know what I’m talking about. Today, over a month later—we still don’t have what we asked for,” Sandra Bland’s mother said. “This has got to stop. I’m not going to be silent—I’m going to continue to talk.”