Mystery clouds details of Sandra Bland’s volatile arrest and jail death in Texas
Four days before she died, Sandra Bland was upbeat when she showed up at the home of longtime friend LaVaughn Mosley, and excited about a last-minute job interview.
After working a series of temporary jobs, Bland, 28, was interviewing for a community outreach job at her alma mater, a university near Mosley’s home. She needed a place to store her things and freshen up.
Mosley, 57, waited for her to shower before seeing her off, Bland wearing a dark orange sleeveless dress and black pumps, her hair in short natural twists. He could see excitement in her eyes.
“How do I look?” Bland asked, and Mosley replied, “Like you’re getting the job!”
At 3 p.m., Bland called to tell him the good news: She was hired. She would begin work the next week.
Mosley would hear from his friend again the next night, calling from the jail in Waller County, where she’d been taken after arguing with an officer during a routine traffic stop. She’d been “roughed up,” Bland told him. “She was going to pursue that officer who abused her,” and she needed help finding a witness. She called and left a message the next day, telling him that her bond had been set.
Two days later, when he hadn’t heard from her again, Mosley called the jail.
“I asked, ‘Well, did she post bond?’” Mosley said. “They said, ‘Well, we can’t tell you. All we can tell you is she’s not here anymore.’”
Bland was found dead that morning in her jail cell, officials say, hanging from a plastic bag attached to a partition.
Several videos document the last days of Bland’s life, including one released Tuesday that shows the angry verbal confrontation with a police officer that led to her arrest during a July 10 traffic stop.
None of the videos provides evidence of what happened during her days in the small county jail, including the minutes preceding what sheriff’s officials say was her suicide on July 13.
“Am I mad? Yes,” Bland’s mother, Geneva Reed-Veal, said at a memorial service at Prairie View A&M University for her daughter Tuesday night. “All I want to know is what happened.”
In the video taken from the dashboard of a Texas state trooper’s patrol car, Bland and the trooper, Brian T. Encinia, are seen engaging in an argument that escalates until Bland is forcefully arrested on suspicion of assaulting a public servant.
At first, Encinia approaches Bland’s vehicle and takes her license and registration before returning to the cruiser. The officer returns to the driver’s side and asks Bland to put out her cigarette. She refuses.
Encinia shouts at her to obey his orders and to get out of the car. He reaches through the open driver’s-side door after Bland refuses to comply and pulls out a Taser. “Get out of the car,” he says. “I will light you up. Get out. Now. Get out of the car.”
After a few moments, Encinia steps back and Bland gets out of the car, and the exchange grows more animated and hostile.
“You’re about to break my wrist,” Bland is heard to say.
At one point, she shouts, “You’re a real man now!”
Throughout, Bland is questioning why she is being arrested and often shouts expletives. Encinia responds in angry tones that she should obey his orders.
It is unclear whether the video released by the Texas Department of Public Safety is complete. In at least two points — after Bland is out of the car — there are apparent breaks, with cars appearing and disappearing from sight.
In releasing the video, law enforcement officials said they were committed to a thorough investigation.
“When the Texas Rangers and FBI investigation is complete, it will be turned over for review by the district attorney, who has indicated it will also be brought before a grand jury,” Steven McCraw, the department’s director, said in a statement.
One of the questions Mosley and others who knew Bland well struggle with most is how such a vibrant, spirited woman could come to kill herself.
In the days before she was jailed, Mosley said, there were no red flags that she suffered from mental illness or even mild depression. Suggestions to the contrary, based on an earlier video in which she said that she had suffered from depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, were “absurd,” he said.
“She was talking about this job, waiting on this callback,” Reed-Veal, who is a real estate broker, said of her daughter’s interview for a job as a college outreach coordinator at her alma mater, Prairie View A&M, a historically black university.
“I know what my purpose is,” she recalled Bland saying. “My purpose is to go back to Texas and stop all social injustice in the South.”
After the job interview, when her daughter called again, she was jubilant. “She said, ‘Mama, I aced it. I killed it at the interview,’” Reed-Veal recalled. But, she added, four days later “she was gone.”
Mosley said he met Bland, from the Chicago suburb of Naperville, Ill., about nine years ago, when he was working as a Harris County extension agent and hired her as a 4-H summer camp counselor. She was an agriculture student, a go-getter whom he kept hiring as a counselor and later a student recruiter once he joined the college’s agriculture program.
“She was always giving help” to fellow students, he recalled, making “a plethora of friends” through her sorority, Sigma Gamma Rho, and the marching band, in which she played trombone.
Bland was outspoken but not shrill, he said.
“She never bit her tongue, but she was respectful. She had a good upbringing, and that was reflected in her daily life. She was spiritual, raised in the church,” Mosley said.
Bland’s funeral is scheduled for Saturday at the church she attended with her family for 18 years, Dupage African Methodist Episcopal Church in Lisle, Ill., according to the longtime pastor, the Rev. James Miller. He called Bland “a mature young adult” and “a forgiving, reconciling person” who was strong-willed and outspoken but also friendly, involved in the youth ministry and prayer breakfasts.
Lee McGinnis, the church’s former Sunday school leader, said he watched Bland grow from a shy, lanky girl into a poised woman.
“She was confident, but not belligerent,” McGinnis said. “Fighting with an officer? She’s never done anything like that that I’ve seen. It’s a total contrast to what I know about her.”
The Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences performed the autopsy and ruled Bland’s death suicide by asphyxiation, but a final report has not been released.
Waller County Dist. Atty. Elton Mathis has said officials are investigating the death as if it were murder, in order to leave no aspect unexamined.
Mosley and others have called for federal officials to take over the investigation.
“We have heard her voice and heard her charge us not to rest,” said the Rev. David Madison, pastor at Greater Ward AME Church in Houston, who helped coordinate and lead Bland’s memorial. “She did not drive all the way from Illinois to hang herself. There is no way. They’re really insulting our intelligence.”
Mosley recalled how unnerved Bland was by the killing of young black people at the hands of police.
“That really touched her. You can see in her Facebook posts that she was really becoming passionate about that,” he said. “She didn’t accept it, and we’re not going to accept it.”
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