Texas officers say Sandra Bland told of previous suicide attempt
The 28-year-old was not currently suicidal, according to mental health assessment
Sandra Bland stated to officers when she arrived in jail that she had tried to kill herself last year but was not currently feeling suicidal, according to copies of forms released by the Waller county sheriff’s office.
She provided the information as part of a series of mental health assessment questions routinely asked to new inmates during the booking process.
Ms Bland was found dead on July 13th, three days after her arrest for alleged assault of a public servant after a routine traffic stop turned into a confrontation when a state trooper ordered her out of the car.
Officials said she hanged herself in her cell.
The officer has been placed on desk duty for violating protocols during the roadside arrest.
Ms Bland’s family and friends have said it is impossible to believe she would kill herself, especially at a time when she had just secured a new job and seemed buoyant.
“Why is it that a 28-year-old woman who had received two job offers [would] take her own life? Why would she call her mom in excitement about those jobs and take her own life?” Cannon Lambert, the family’s attorney, said at a news conference in Chicago, where Ms Bland will be buried on Saturday.
Ms Bland had talked about suffering from depression and PTSD in a Facebook post in March, but her family has said she had not been clinically diagnosed with depression.
Her mother, Geneva Reed Veal, said at a memorial service on Tuesday night that “there is not any way that I can see that my baby took her own life”.
The forms do not paint an entirely clear picture of Ms Bland’s mental health on the evening of her arrest.
In one handwritten screening questionnaire completed an hour after her arrest the “yes” box is checked in response to the question “have you ever attempted suicide”, with the details recorded as “When? 2014; Why? Lost baby; How? Pills”.
The death of her godmother in late 2014 is also mentioned as the answer to another question about any recent losses.
The “yes” box is checked on the questions “have you ever been very depressed”, “do you feel this way now” and “have you had thoughts of killing yourself in the last year?”.
The answer to “are you thinking about killing yourself today?” is “no”.
However, on another form typed by a different officer and with a recorded time of two hours and 45 minutes later, the answers to the questions “have you ever been depressed?”, “do you feel this way now?” and “have you had thoughts of killing yourself in the last year?” are “no”, and the year of the suicide attempt is stated as 2015.
The Guardian has sought comment from a Waller county sheriff’s office spokesman about the apparent discrepancies in the forms.
She was given a clean bill of physical health and designated as a “medium-assaultive” risk prisoner based on the classification of her arrest.
Three days after her death the jail was designated as non-compliant with minimum standards by the Texas Commission on Jail Standards for inadequate training on how to handle potentially suicidal inmates and for failing to complete visual face-to-face observation of all inmates at least once an hour.
In dashcam video from her arrest released on Tuesday, Ms Bland says she is in pain from being manhandled and that trooper Brian Encinia has “slammed” her head on the ground.
She also says she has epilepsy. LaVaughn Mosley, a family friend, confirmed to the Guardian that she was epileptic. Waller county officials have said that their records show she refused medical treatment at the arrest scene.
Ms Bland’s sister accused Encinia of “picking on her” after she was pulled over for failing to signal a lane change, then ordered to put out a cigarette and threatened with a Taser.
“I’m infuriated and everybody else should be infuriated as well,” Sharon Cooper told the news conference.
She defended her sister’s reluctance to exit the vehicle. “When you tell me that you’re going to light me up I feel extremely threatened and I’m not going to get out of my car,” she said.
Ms Lambert told reporters: “If you look at the dashcam I think you see right out of the gate that this could easily have been avoided. There is very little reason that can be gleaned from the dashcam why Sandy had to be asked to put her cigarette out, why Sandy had to be asked to get out of her car, why Sandy had to be subject to the officer pointing a Taser at her, why Sandy had to be thrown to the ground.”
The Texas Department of Public Safety released a 52-minute video of sound and video from Encinia’s dashcam on Tuesday that included breaks and jumps in the images, then issued a revised version on Wednesday, blaming technical glitches for the initial discrepancies.
Ms Lambert said he could not be sure that the footage had not been doctored.
“We simply don’t know. I’m not a forensic media examiner but now I know that we’re going to have to get one. The long and short of it is that we want everything that happened … to come to light,” he said.