A grand jury in Texas has decided no felony was committed by the sheriff's office or jailers in connection with the death last summer of Sandra Bland, in effect ruling it a suicide, prosecutors said Monday.
Bland, 28, was found hanged by a plastic bag in her jail cell three days after she was arrested July 10 during a routine traffic stop.
Special prosecutor Shawn McDonald said the Waller County grand jury on Monday reached no decision on whether Brian T. Ecinia, the trooper who arrested Bland, should face charges.
The grand jury will reconvene Jan. 6.
McDonald is one of five Houston-area lawyers appointed as independent special prosecutors to present the case to the grand jury. If there are any indictments, those lawyers will take the case to trial.
“It’s an independent process and we just want to make sure everything is done right,” said another of the special prosecutors, Chad Dick.
Bland’s family and activists have questioned how the traffic stop was conducted and whether Bland, an outspoken online advocate for the Black Lives Matter movement, killed herself. At the time Bland was stopped, she had just accepted a job at her alma mater, Prairie View A&M University.
Ecinia pulled her over for making an improper lane change near the university’s entrance, about 50 miles northwest of Houston. The confrontation that ensued before Bland was arrested and charged with assault was captured on a dash camera video that later went viral.
Bland was taken to the Waller County jail in nearby Hempstead where, three days later, unable to make $500 bail, she was discovered hanged in her cell. After an autopsy by the Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences in Houston, officials ruled her death a suicide.
An attorney for the Bland family said relatives was not surprised by the findings. Cannon Lambert dismissed the grand jury as “a political tool of the prosecutor.”
“They do this type of stuff so they can pacify the public," he said.
Bland’s mother and sisters held a briefing in Chicago on Monday before the findings were released to say they do not believe the case is being thoroughly investigated and presented to the grand jury.
“The biggest problem I have is the entire process,” said Bland’s mother, Geneva Reed-Veal. “It's the secrecy of it all.”
Reed-Veal insisted prosecutors have not sought to interview relatives about Bland’s death and that family members have not been kept abreast of grand jury proceedings, including evidence presented by prosecutors.
“I simply can’t have faith in a system that’s not inclusive of my family,” Reed-Veal said. “We’re supposed to have an investigation to show us what’s happening.”
Bland's sister, Sharon Cooper, said the family is “in pieces this holiday season.”
“The timing of the grand jury, in my personal opinion, is disrespectful to the family and it continues to pour salt on a wound that has already been ripped open for the past five months,” she said.
McDonald disagreed. “We reached out to them on numerous occasions since August,” he said. “We offered to fly to Chicago on our own dime. They have yet to set up nor request a meeting with us.
“We have at no time tried to hide anything,” he said, “This process has been very, very thorough. We were in there all day today answering questions. Everyone is working diligently to make sure the right thing occurs behind those doors.”
In August, Bland’s family filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against the Waller County Sheriff's Office, jail officials and the Texas Department of Public Safety.
Last month, attorneys representing Waller County filed a motion seeking to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing that Bland took her life because she was distraught that her family members didn’t bail her out of jail.
Last week, a federal judge in Houston set the case for trial Jan. 23, 2017.
Reed-Veal said Monday that she doubts any serious steps are being taken to hold anyone accountable for her daughter's death.
“I don't know what happened to my daughter,” Reed-Veal said, but “I know what happened should not have happened.”
Lolly Bowean in Chicago contributed to this report.
Follow me for the latest in national news @mollyhf.
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