الأحد , يونيو 14 2020

Bland 'spoke of previous suicide bid'

A US woman who died in police custody three days after being arrested told a guard she previously attempted suicide, according to the sheriff in Texas.

A coroner’s report said Sandra Bland, a 28-year-old African-American, hanged herself but her family doubt this.

She was arrested on 10 July over a confrontation with a policeman who pulled her over for a traffic offence.

A video of the incident shows the officer appearing to threaten her with a Taser and say: “I will light you up.”

Both state officials and the FBI are investigating her death.

Sheriff Glenn Smith, whose Waller County jail was where Bland was held, told the AP news agency on Wednesday that during the booking process she said she had tried to kill herself in the past .

He said Bland’s comments were made after she was asked a series of questions that are posed to every person who is detained at the jail in Hempstead, about 60 miles (100 km) northwest of Houston.

Mr Smith said another guard also spoke to Bland. She told him she was upset but not depressed, according to the sheriff, and both jailers insisted she appeared fine at the time.

She was found dead in the cell three days after her arrest and officials say she hanged herself.

Cannon Lambert, the lawyer representing Bland’s family, said relatives have “no evidence” that she previously attempted suicide and denied she was suffering from depression.

He said the family wanted investigators to get to the bottom of what happened, adding: “Sandy [Bland] was a social activist. Social activists don’t take her own life.”

He also said the dashcam video of the arrest, which was released by the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) on Wednesday, showed that Bland’s death “could have easily been avoided”.

‘I will light you up’

In the video, Brian Encinia, a white police officer, is seen issuing a ticket and then asking Bland to stub out her cigarette, which she refuses.

When she refuses to step out of the car, he tries unsuccessfully to pull her out. He then appears to threaten her with a Taser and says the words: “I will light you up.”

She gets out of the car and they move out of vision, but the audio suggests the confrontation becomes physical before more officers arrive.

A number of breaks were spotted in the original video that the DPS posted on to YouTube, prompting many people on social media to question the authenticity of the entire film.

But a DPS spokesman insisted it had not been edited and that the glitches were a result of a technical error. The original video was later removed and another version was posted online.


Surveillance video released from the jail shows officers responding to Bland’s death


Bland had just started a new job in Texas

Officer Encinia, who has been on the force for just over a year, said he was kicked during the arrest. He has been put on administrative leave.

Texas DPS director Steven McCraw said his officers have “an obligation to exhibit professionalism and be courteous” but that “wasn’t the case in this situation”.

‘Heavily disproportionate’

Prof Lawrence Sherman, director of the Institute of Criminology at Cambridge University, said the video clearly shows the officer is “out of control”.

He told the BBC that the response was “heavily disproportionate to the seriousness of the offence” and that he believed “a suit against [Mr Encinia] for illegal arrest would be very successful”.

Bland’s death is one of several under scrutiny in the US in which a black person has died while in police custody.

Other high-profile cases, since the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson last summer, have sparked protests and sometimes unrest.

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