A Death In A Texas Jail Stirs Suspicion

Jul 21, 2015
Originally published on July 21, 2015 3:04 pm
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Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Texas authorities are trying to keep from being overwhelmed by suspicion on social media. It's suspicion about the death of Sandra Bland. Officials say the 28-year-old African-American woman committed suicide while in jail a week ago, Monday. Her family rejects that explanation, saying the woman from Illinois was looking forward to starting a new job. Now authorities are trying to keep ahead of the doubts, as NPR's Martin Kaste reports.

MARTIN KASTE, BYLINE: Yesterday afternoon, the Waller County Sheriff's Office doubled down on its assertion that Sandra Bland hanged herself in her cell.

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CAPTAIN BRIAN CANTRELL: I want to make clear that the death of Ms. Bland was a tragic incident, not one of criminal intent or a criminal act.

KASTE: That's Captain Brian Cantrell as he gave the media several hours' worth of surveillance video from the jail. He says it shows that no one entered her cell to harm her. But even if Bland did commit suicide, her family still wonders why she was jailed to begin with. She was pulled over for not signaling a lane change and she was accused of assaulting the officer during the stop. Jamal Bryant is an activist who says he's working with the family and their attorney, and he says the dash cam video of the traffic stop does not show Sandra Bland striking the officer. He says the trooper seemed to be irritated at her for a different reason.

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JAMAL BRYANT: The conversation begins about her smoking in the car and the officer's saying she need to put that cigarette out. And she then protests she has the right to smoke a cigarette in her own car.

KASTE: Waller County's criminal district attorney has also seen that video, and yesterday, Elton Mathis described it this way.

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ELTON MATHIS: Sandra Bland was very combatant. It was not a model traffic stop, and it was not a model person that was stopped on a traffic stop.

KASTE: He said the public can reach its own judgment about the behaviors on display in that dash cam video when it's released today. Martin Kaste, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.