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Texas panel recommends overhaul of jail where black woman died

AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) - A civilian committee that examined a Texas county jail where a black woman committed suicide in her cell last year recommended sweeping changes for the system, including better mental health screenings, a report released on Tuesday said.

Texas state trooper Brian Encinia points a Taser as he orders Sandra Bland out of her vehicle, in this still image captured from the police dash camera video from the traffic stop of Bland's vehicle in Prairie View, Texas, in this July 10, 2015 file photo. REUTERS/The Texas Department of Public Safety/Handout via Reuters

The report on the Waller County jail came largely in response to the death of Sandra Bland, who was found with a trash bag around her neck in her cell three days after her July 2015 arrest following a traffic stop. The case raised questions whether she was jailed and mistreated because of her race.

The committee recommended that emergency medical technicians be used to screen inmates for medical and mental health issues instead of sheriff’s deputies, the Houston Chronicle reported.

It also recommended the construction of a facility to replace the current jail, which does not meet safety and security requirements. It added that body cameras should be used to record encounters between officers and civilians, the newspaper reported.

Bland, 28, was pulled over in her car on July 10 by then- state trooper Brian Encinia for failing to signal a lane change in Waller County, about 50 miles northwest of Houston.

She was charged with assaulting an officer, a felony, and critics said her race was an underlying factor in the traffic stop and the way in which the trooper allowed the confrontation to escalate.

The Texas Department of Public Safety faulted Encinia for his conduct during the stop and subsequently fired him. A dashcam video showed him shouting at Bland and failing to answer her when she asked numerous times why she was being arrested.

In August, Bland’s family filed a wrongful death suit against Encinia, the Waller County sheriff’s office and her jailers, accusing them of being responsible for her hanging.

Encinia has been indicted on a misdemeanor charge of lying on the arrest report he made of the incident.

Local officials have said Bland was not mistreated in jail.

The Waller County jail, where Bland was held, had been cited by a state monitor for not doing enough to keep an eye on inmates and properly filling out intake forms, Brandon Wood, the executive director of the Texas Commission on Jail Standards, told a Texas House of Representatives committee in July 2015.

Reporting by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Peter Cooney