With a job waiting for her, a woman from the Chicago suburbs drove to Texas to start a new chapter of her life on July 9. Three days later, Sandra Bland was arrested for “assault of a public servant,” during a routine traffic stop in Waller County. And on July 13, police found her dead in her jail cell.
The 28-year-old’s death has been classified as a suicide “with the cause of death (listed as) hanging,” or “self-inflicted asphyxiation,” Tricia Bentley, a spokeswoman for the Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences in Houston told the Chicago Tribune. But friends and family aren’t convinced, telling ABC 7 Chicago they suspect foul play.
“I do suspect foul play,” says Cheryl Nanton. “I believe that we are all 100 percent in belief that she did not do harm to herself.”
“We’re very suspicious and we’re a very tight community and we’re very upset that this has happened and it seems like there’s nothing really being done about it,” says LaVaughn Mosley.
Longtime friend LaNitra Dean tells the I-Team that Bland “was a warm, affectionate, outspoken woman” who spoke out about police brutality often on her Facebook page and was critical of injustice against African Americans. “Each one of us feels like we lost a part of ourselves and it’s hard, it’s going to be hard for a very long time,” said her sister Sharon Cooper.
“Sandy was strong. Strong mentally and spiritually.” Bland was set to start her new job at her alma mater, Texas Prairie View A&M, this month. The young woman, described by her friends as “strong mentally and spiritually,” was to work in student outreach. “The Waller County Jail is trying to rule her death a suicide and Sandy would not have taken her own life,” Dean told ABC 7.
Video of her arrest, obtained by the I-Team, shows several police officers restraining Bland on the side of the road while she questions their use of force. A bystander captured the video Friday morning. Bland’s family members point to the altercation, but Waller County Sheriff Glenn Smith maintains the young woman was “combative” during her arrest.
In the video he shot, Bland is heard saying, “You just slammed my head into the ground. Do you not even care about that? I can’t even hear!” Then, as she is taken into custody, she repeats, “You slammed me into the ground and everything.”
Bland was taken to jail and was expected to be released Monday on $5,000 bail. But when a jailer came to her cell to see if she wanted recreation time, Bland was dead. According to ABC, jailers say they saw Bland at 7 a.m. to give her breakfast and again an hour later when they spoke to her over the jail intercom. When jailers came to Bland’s cell and discovered her lifeless body, they applied CPR. She was pronounced dead a short while later.
“I do not have any information that would make me think it was anything other than just a suicide,” says Waller County District Attorney Elton Mathis. In recent days, Bland’s death has set social media ablaze, prompting many to ask #WhatHappenedToSandyBland?”
The investigation has been turned over to the Texas Rangers.