HOUSTON — The family of Sandra Bland, the Illinois woman found dead in a Texas jail cell last month, filed a lawsuit Tuesday in Houston seeking to hold people involved in her death accountable. “We are looking for Waller County and the individuals involved to take accountability,” said attorney Cannon Lambert Sr., who is representing the family.
The lawsuit is filed against Trooper Brian Encinia, the sheriff of Waller County, Texas, two of the jailers and the Texas Department of Public Safety, Lambert said.
Encinia arrested Bland on July 10 in Waller County, Texas. Three days later, on July 13, she was found dead in a jail cell in Hempstead, Texas. Officials say she used a plastic bag to hang herself.
Many of Bland’s family, friends and others on social media worldwide have questioned that explanation. They say she was about to start a new job at Prairie View A&M University, her alma mater.
The 28-year-old was pulled over for failing to signal while changing lanes. She was arrested for allegedly kicking Encinia during a traffic stop near Prairie View A&M. Dashcam video does not make clear whether or not that happened, but does show the encounter quickly escalating after Encinia tells Bland to put out her cigarette.
The trooper was put on desk duty for violating procedures during the stop. “Mr. Encinia is still employed and it doesn’t make sense that the taxpayers are paying for the type of service that he employed on July 10,” Lambert said.
“This family needs an answer to the principle question of what happened to Sandra Bland. It’s why we filed suit,” he said.
The family would like the Department of Justice to investigate Bland’s death as they said the case requires a fresh set of eyes. Last week, Waller County officials released hours of video of Bland inside the jail to try to disprove claims of foul play.
On July 22, police released a 52-minute long dash camera video from Encinia’s car. The clip showed Encinia yelling for Bland to get out of her car and demanding that she put her phone away. “Step out, or I will remove you,” he said repeatedly, opening the driver’s door as she protested.
The release of the video raised questions on whether the video had been edited. The Texas Department of Public Safety disputed those claims, saying the “glitches” in the video came during the uploading process. The next day, the department released the video without the “glitches.”
“I watched the video once. I will not watch it again,” said Geneva Reed-Veal, Bland’s mother. She said watching the video she felt “anger, disgust, disappointment and sadness. I have chosen to channel those feelings in another way. … I am angry. Justice is going to be served if the justice system does what it’s supposed to do.”
Reed-Veal wants to know: “What happened to my daughter? What happened to Sandy Bland? Where is the continual tape” to show her arrival through the day? “I would welcome any additional information. We’ve asked for it in writing, but we’re not getting it,” she said.
Lambert said the family’s requests for information were ignored, but the media’s requests were not. Family members say they are still waiting on autopsy results that show Bland’s gastric content, ligatures, time of death and other information that should be provided by Waller County.
While Bland’s family does not believe she committed suicide, they are aware of that possibility. “I’m the first one to tell you that if the facts show without a doubt that that was the case, I will have to be prepared to deal with that,” Reed-Veal said. “But bottom line is she never should have been in that jail. Period.”
Debate over what caused Bland’s death erupted on social media. Days after she was found, the hashtag #IfIDieInPoliceCustody began trending on Twitter.
Bland’s police mugshot is also circulating on social media, with many questioning whether Bland might actually be dead in the photo, and whether the potentially fabricated image is part of a cover-up for some harm that came her way. The arguments have pulled in a range of people, including the author known as Zane and reality show personality Judith Camille Jackson.
“I am big on looking into people’s eyes and I don’t see any life in hers,” Zane posted on Facebook. “I hope they did not do such a despicable thing as is being implied.”
The family is not seeking a specific dollar amount, Lambert said.
article by Adam Bennett; Contributing: Melanie Eversley, USA TODAY