LISLE, Ill. (Reuters) - A black woman who was found hanging dead in her Texas jail cell last week after her arrest following a minor traffic violation said she had attempted to commit suicide in the past year, the county sheriff said on Wednesday.
“On the first initial questionnaire when she came in, she told (the jailers) she had tried to commit suicide last year,” Waller County Sheriff Glenn Smith said in a telephone interview. He added that the woman, Sandra Bland, also said she was not currently depressed.
The attorney for the Bland family told a news conference in the Chicago area that the family was aware of the comments but had not seen the official reports.
“This family has no evidence” she ever tried to commit suicide, attorney Cannon Lambert said.
The family has maintained Bland, 28, was excited to start her new job at her alma mater, Prairie View A&M University, and was not suicidal.
Smith said the jailers on duty when Bland was admitted felt she was not a suicide risk based on their observations and her statement on the questionnaire that she was not depressed at the time.
Bland was pulled over on July 10 near Prairie View, Texas, northwest of Houston, for failing to signal a lane change. After the incident escalated into an altercation between her and the trooper, Bland was taken into custody and charged with assaulting an officer. She was found hanging in her jail cell on July 13 with a plastic trash bag around her neck.
Her death was originally ruled a suicide, although officials have said they are handling it as a murder probe.
Demonstrators have protested outside the jail where Bland died, and her case has been taken up by activists who say it is the latest example of racial bias and excessive force by U.S. law enforcement. The trooper involved in the incident, Brian Encinia, is white.
Encinia, 30, who started with the Texas Department of Public Safety about 18 months ago, has been put on desk duty for violating protocol.
Smith said the jail had changed its policies since Bland’s death to bring in mental health officials to meet with inmates who say they have attempted suicide in the past. He added that trash bags, which were added to cells months ago for sanitary reasons at the recommendation of a state jail inspector, had since been removed.
Bland’s family on Wednesday cited the dashcam video from the traffic stop to argue the arrest easily could have been avoided.
The video was released on Tuesday night. A new version eliminating technical issues that had led some people to question whether it had been altered was released on Wednesday. Police officials said the original version had not been edited.
Attorney Lambert said the video and the other report left Bland’s family with even more questions than they had when they went to Texas to bring home the Chicago-area woman’s body on Wednesday. Her funeral is scheduled for Saturday.
The video shows what started as a routine traffic stop developing into a confrontation when Bland resists an order to put out her cigarette and get out of her car. The trooper points a Taser at her and threatens to “light her up.”
The Waller County Jail where Bland died was cited three days later by the Texas Commission on Jail Standards for failing to complete visual face-to-face observations of inmates every 60 minutes as required by state regulations.
The jail also failed an inspection in November 2012 for failing to complete hourly observations, state records show. Smith said the last death of an inmate at the jail occurred that year, when a male inmate used a bedsheet to hang himself.
Additional reporting by Ben Klayman in Detroit and David Bailey in Minneapolis; Editing by Eric Walsh and Peter Cooney