Sandra Bland's death in Texas jail questioned by family

A 28-year-old woman who authorities say hanged herself in a Texas jail after her arrest for allegedly kicking an officer following a traffic stop gave no indication she was in such an emotional state that she would kill herself, her sister said Thursday.

Some relatives believe woman was killed and family wants more information from investigators.

Sandra Bland's sisters Sharon Cooper, front, takes questions from the media, while her sisters Shavon Bland, left, and Shante Needham, become emotional, during a news conference about their sister's death. (Abel Uribe/Chicago Tribune/Associated Press)

A 28-year-old woman who authorities say hanged herself in a Texas jail after her arrest for allegedly kicking an officer following a traffic stop gave no indication she was in such an emotional state that she would kill herself, her sister said Thursday.

The Texas Rangers are investigating the circumstances surrounding the death of Sandra Bland of the Chicago suburb of Naperville. She was found dead Monday morning in a Waller County jail cell in Hempstead, Texas, about 100 kilometres northwest of Houston.

"Based on the Sandy that I knew, that's unfathomable to me," Bland's sister, Sharon Cooper, said at a news conference in Chicago.

The death of Bland, a black woman who was in the process of moving to Texas to start working at the college from which she graduated, comes amid increased national scrutiny of police after a series of high-profile cases in which blacks have been killed by officers. Bland's death has gotten attention on social media, with posts questioning the official account of her death and featuring the hashtags #JusticeForSandy and #WhatHappenedToSandyBland.

'It doesn't make sense'

An attorney hired by Bland's family, Cannon Lambert, said some relatives believe Bland was killed and the family wants more information from investigators.

"This family is really looking to understand what happened," Lambert said during the news conference. "We don't understand this. It doesn't make sense."

Waller County District Attorney Elton Mathis said he had no information indicating Bland's death wasn't a suicide.

"If I receive information that there's something nefarious going on, or foul play, we will certainly get to the bottom of that," he told the Chicago Tribune. "I understand there's some disbelief among some friends and family that she would do this to herself. That's why it's very important that the Texas Rangers be allowed to conduct a thorough investigation."

He said such an investigation is "typical protocol" when someone dies in custody.

Lambert and Bland's sister, Shante Needham, said they'd been working to get the money for bail when they learned that Bland was dead.

Needham said Bland had called her from jail on Saturday afternoon, telling her that she'd been arrested, but didn't know why. She also said an officer had placed his knee in her back and she thought her arm had been broken.

"She was very aggravated. She seemed to be in pain. She really felt that her arm had been fractured," Needham said, holding back tears.

"I told her I would work on getting her out."

Death classified as suicide

The Harris County medical examiner has classified Bland's death as suicide by hanging.

A Texas state trooper arrested Bland on Friday in Prairie View on a charge of assaulting a public servant. Erik Burse, a trooper and spokesman for the Texas Department Public Safety, told the Chicago Tribune that Bland was pulled over for failing to signal a lane change. He said she was outside the car and about to be issued a written warning when she kicked the officer and was then arrested.

Lambert said they didn't know if Bland had kicked the officer, but said it would have been out of character for her to do something like that if unprovoked.

Mathis, the district attorney, told Houston television station KPRC, "I will admit it is strange someone who had everything going for her would have taken her own life. That's why it's very important a thorough investigation is done and that we get a good picture of what Ms. Bland was going through the last four or five days of her life."

Bland had just accepted a job at Prairie View A&M, a historically black college in Prairie View. She graduated from there in 2009 with a bachelor's degree in agriculture and was set to go work for the school's cooperative extension on Aug. 3, said university spokesman Yolanda Bevill. She said Bland was to take a position as a programming associate, where she would be helping the extension oversee its summer programs.

Friends also said it doesn't make sense for it to be a suicide.

"Anyone who knows Sandy Bland knows she has a thirst for life. She was planning for the future, and she came here to start that future, so to say she killed herself is totally absurd," friend LaVaughn Mosley told KPRC.

Another friend, Cheryl Nanton, told the Chicago television station WLS that she suspects foul play.

"I believe that we are all 100 per cent in belief that she did not do harm to herself," Nanton said.

Longtime friend LaNitra Dean told WLS 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 blacks.


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