NATION

Sandra Bland told jailers she'd once tried suicide, jail documents say

Sandra Bland, who died in a Texas cell three days after her arrest during a traffic stop, told jailers that she had previously tried to commit suicide by taking pills because she had lost a baby, according to booking documents released Wednesday.

The documents were made public as officials investigated whether Bland killed herself on July 13 in the Waller County Jail, where she was being held on a felony charge of assaulting a state trooper who had pulled her over in Prairie View, Texas.

Her family and friends have insisted that the 28-year-old Illinois woman was upbeat about getting a new job in Prairie View and would never have taken her own life.

Sandra Bland arrest video: What it shows

The family lawyer, Cannon Lambert, told reporters at a televised news conference Wednesday that there was no evidence that Bland had ever attempted suicide or been treated for depression. Texas officials were trying to shift the focus away from the contentious arrest on July 10 that started the chain of events that led to the discovery of Bland’s body in the cell three days later, he said.

Law enforcement officials had briefed local lawmakers about the jail documents on Tuesday, and the substance of them was reported in the local press. On Wednesday, the county prosecutor’s office released the documents after inquiries from the media.

Question 14 asks whether the woman being arrested had ever attempted suicide and if so, when, why and how. Bland responded to the screening officer that she had attempted suicide “in 2015, lost baby, by taking pills,” the documents showed.

The form also noted that Bland did not seem confused, preoccupied, sad or paranoid when she was interviewed.

The documents made no mention of any special monitoring arrangements or suicide watch. Bland was given a security designation of “medium assaultive-escape” two steps below a “high” security designation and one step below “close custody.”

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Sharon Cooper, Bland’s sister, told CNN she was unaware of any suicide attempt by her sister and questioned the jail documents. “I have a hard time dealing with the inconsistencies and that seems to be the theme of the last few days here,” she said.

“There are even more questions that have come out of Texas than when we went down there,” Lambert said at the news conference.

“We take issue with the notion she was suffering from depression,” said Lambert, who also discounted reports that Bland was suicidal or taking medication for physical or emotional conditions. “Everybody has hills and valleys. There is no medication, no epilepsy.

“Her medical history is not the issue,” the lawyer said. “It is an attempt to divert attention from the real issue. This happened because an officer was overzealous.”

LaVaughn Mosley, 57, of Prairie View knew Bland for years, hosted her during her visit, spoke to her by phone at the jail before she died and said he never heard her mention the previous suicide attempt.

“I don't trust it,” Mosley said of the documents. “Why is it coming out now, when it fits their story? It's fishy.”

He noted that Bland had been living in the Chicago area, so he wasn't sure what she had been through during the last year. But if she had previously attempted suicide, “that doesn't mean she killed herself, even if it's true."

“And if she did check that, why wasn't she on suicide watch? Why were they not checking her carefully? She was in the custody of the jail,” he said.

“My questions won't be answered until we find out what happened here in Waller County,” he said.

Earlier Wednesday, Lambert dismissed actions by Texas officials, including the release of a corrected dashboard video of the arrest.

On Tuesday, the Texas Department of Public Safety had posted a video containing glitches, prompting questions about whether the video had been altered or edited. Texas officials denied any editing and blamed the glitches on problems uploading the video.

The new video is about three minutes shorter than the original footage. It did not contain two key glitches that had prompted a flurry of speculation over the video released Tuesday -- footage that appeared to be missing or repeated at around minute 25 and minute 33.

Instead, it appeared to show a continuous record of the July 10 roadside encounter that preceded Bland's arrest in the small town of Prairie View, northwest of Houston.

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FOR THE RECORD

An earlier version of this article said that Prairie View is in northwest Texas.

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The video has come under intense scrutiny because the incident that began with a seemingly routine traffic stop ended with Bland's death three days later in her Waller County jail cell.

Sheriff's officials have said her death was a suicide, but her family and supporters question that finding. 

The dash-cam video in Trooper Brian T. Encinia's car, originally released Tuesday, showed an angry, escalating confrontation after the officer initially pulled Bland over for failing to signal a lane change.

By the time it was over, Bland was roughly removed from her car, handcuffed on the ground and arrested on suspicion of assaulting a public servant, a felony charge.

Raising a storm of speculation on social media were at least two moments on the video in which a car could be seen entering the field of view twice in immediate succession, and then simply disappearing.

In a statement mailed to reporters Wednesday morning, Tom Vinger, press secretary for the Texas Department of Public Safety, said the dash-cam video was unedited and blamed the glitches in the original video on technology.

"Yesterday's video was not edited. The entire video was uploaded Tuesday to include the audio and video of the conversation the trooper had by telephone with his sergeant, which occurred after the arrest. Some of the video was affected in the upload. That technical issue has now been resolved," he said.

Texas officials who viewed the video with DPS Director Steve McCraw, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and others at a closed-door meeting in Prairie View before it was publicly released Tuesday said the version they saw did not include the glitches.

“That was a technical deal with the uploading to the YouTube platform,” said Kelvin Bass, a spokesman for Texas state Sen. Royce West (D-Dallas), whom he accompanied to the meeting.

“That is not what we saw at the meeting yesterday,” Bass said of the video released publicly, adding that in the video he saw at the meeting, “there were no loops.”

The two videos and the flurry of questions added more confusion to a case that has already ignited passions on all sides.

Vinger noted the sensitivity of the dash-cam video and a second video showing the last hours in the Waller County jail where Bland was being held. There is no video of what happened inside her cell, but the jailhouse video depicts activity outside the cell and helps provide a timeline leading to discovery of the body.

“To eliminate any concerns as to the efficacy of the video, DPS previously requested the FBI examine the dash-cam and jail video to ensure the integrity of the video,” Vinger said.

The FBI in Houston on Wednesday said it is reviewing the case.

“We are coordinating with all of the involved agencies. At this time, we are monitoring the ongoing local investigation. Once the local process takes its course, the FBI will review all of the evidence to determine if any federal criminal laws may have been violated,” said a statement from the FBI’s Houston Division.

Bland’s death is the latest deadly confrontation between African Americans and police, and questions about the circumstances of her arrest persisted Wednesday even with release of the new video.

The footage shows Encinia trying to drag Bland, 28, from her car after she initially refused to get out. Encinia draws his stun gun and notifies her that she is refusing to obey the orders of a police officer.

In the video, Encinia initially asks Bland to put out her cigarette. “Would you mind putting out your cigarette, please?” Encinia said.

“I’m in my car, why do I have to put out my cigarette?” Bland answered.

“Well, you can step on out now,” Encinia responds.

Bland refuses, saying she did not have to step out of the car.

Encinia opened the driver’s door and attempted to physically remove Bland from the vehicle.

“I’m going to yank you out of here,” Encinia said as the two struggled in the car. “I’m going to drag you out of here.”

“Don’t touch me, I’m not under arrest,” Bland said.

“I will light you up!” Encinia said, while pointing the stun gun at Bland.

Much of the subsequent confrontation occurs outside the view of the dash-cam, but the audio captures what sounds like a struggle. Bland is heard saying that the officer “just slammed my head to the ground.”

Later, when a female officer arrives at the scene, Encinia says Bland “started yanking away, then kicked me, so I took her straight to the ground.” In his affidavit, Encinia says he had pain in his right leg and suffered small cuts to his right hand.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott joined law enforcement officials in pledging that the case will be investigated.

“Our hearts and prayers remain with the Bland family for their tragic loss. The family deserves answers. The Texas Rangers, working in coordination with the FBI, will conduct a full and thorough investigation that will deliver those answers and work toward the ultimate goal of ensuring justice in this case," he said.

Hennessy-Fiske reported from Houston, Muskal from Los Angeles. Staff writers Ryan Parker, Christine Mai-Duc and Christina Littlefield in Los Angeles contributed to this report. 

Follow @latimesmuskal for national news.

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Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times

UPDATE

4:55 p.m.: This story was updated with the release of jail documents indicating that Bland said she had once tried to commit suicide, and with the reaction of her family and friends.

This post was originally published at 12:57 p.m.

 

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