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Woman's Death in Texas Jail Cell Spurs Questions

  • Molly McKitterick

This undated handout photo provided by the Waller County sheriff’s office shows Sandra Bland, who was found dead in her jail cell in Hempstead, Texas, July 13, 2015.

This undated handout photo provided by the Waller County sheriff’s office shows Sandra Bland, who was found dead in her jail cell in Hempstead, Texas, July 13, 2015.

Sandra Bland was on her way to a new job and a new life when she was pulled over in Prairie View, Texas, for failing to signal a lane change. Three days later, the 28-year-old was found dead in a Waller County jail cell, having apparently hung herself from an overhead partition with a plastic garbage bag.

“We all want to know: How did a simple traffic stop end up with the death of a young black woman who was just trying to move on in life?” said Bland’s friend LaVaughn Mosley.

What the authorities say is that Bland became combative when a Department of Public Safety trooper pulled her over July 10. She was arrested for assault. On July 13, she was found dead.

“A female inmate was found in her cell not breathing from what appears to be self-inflicted asphyxiation,” reads the official press release from the office of Waller County Sheriff Glenn Smith.

Foul Play?

Bland’s family and friends — and a large number of people on social media, where the story has gone viral — are not buying the official explanation.

They say Bland, a resident of Chicago, had obtained a new job in student outreach at her alma mater, Prairie View A&M University. She was excited about the position and her new life in Prairie View. Why would she kill herself, they ask?

They dismiss a Facebook video Bland posted earlier this year in which she said she was suffering from "a little bit of depression.''

Some suspect foul play. The outspoken Bland, a civil rights activist, also posted statements about racial injustice on her Facebook page. "If we want change," she said in one post, "we can really, truly make it happen."

Purported video of the arrest, posted on YouTube and Facebook, shows two police officers handcuffing a woman, who is lying on the ground. She yells, “You just slammed my head into the ground. Do you not even care about that?”

"I will admit it's strange that someone who seemed to have everything going her way would have taken her own life," said Waller County District Attorney Elton Mathis. "And that's why it's very, very important that a thorough investigation is done and that we get a good picture of what Miss Bland was going through the last four, five days of her life."

State Police, FBI Investigating

Texas state police have been called in to investigate. The district attorney said the results of that investigation would be turned over to a grand jury. In the meantime, the FBI has joined the investigation.

As of this writing, almost 77,000 people had signed an online petition asking for the Department of Justice to investigate.

Bland’s death comes at a time when there is increased national scrutiny of police after a series of high-profile cases in which blacks have been killed by officers or died while in custody.

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