HEMPSTEAD, Texas - The family of a Chicago-area woman found dead in a Texas jail cell last week ordered an independent autopsy, which was completed Sunday, their lawyer told a radio station Monday.
The results of that autopsy have not yet been released.
The death of Sandra Bland, a 28-year-old black woman, at the Waller County jail, about 60 miles northwest of Houston, comes amid increased national scrutiny of police after a series of high-profile cases in which blacks have been killed by officers.
Authorities say Bland hanged herself with a plastic bag on July 13, three days after being pulled over by police in Waller County for allegedly failing to signal a lane change. Bland, who was from Naperville, Illinois, was in Texas interviewing for a job at nearby Prairie View A&M University, a historically black college from which she graduated in 2009.
The Texas Department of Public Safety said the state trooper who pulled her over on July 10 planned to give her a written warning but she became uncooperative and argumentative. She was arrested after she allegedly kicked an officer and then was taken to the county jail in Hempstead.
Bland family attorney Cannon Lambert told radio show host Roland Martin on Monday that he saw dash cam video of Bland's arrest and that there is no footage of Bland striking the state trooper. Instead, he says the state trooper is seen reaching into Bland's car and trying to pull her out after she refused to put out a cigarette at the officer's request. According to Lambert, Bland is seen attempting to record the officer on her cell phone and when the officer pulls out his Taser, Bland complies and gets out of the car.
In police dash cam video of the arrest circulating on the Internet, Bland, after apparently having exited her vehicle, can be seen on the ground shouting at police, accusing officers of excessive force.
"You just slammed my head into the ground. Do you not even care about that? I can't even hear!," she says in the video.
Bland was still in jail three days after her arrest, awaiting posting of bond, when she was found dead in her cell. A medical examiner ruled her death a suicide caused by asphyxiation.
Family members and friends insist Bland was looking forward to a new job at her former school and that she gave no indication she was in such an emotional state that she would kill herself. An attorney hired by Bland's family said some relatives believe she was killed and the family wants more information from an investigation. CBS affiliate KHOU reports friends of Bland say she was an active voice against police brutality and that they believe that's at the heart of the case.
However, Bland had posted a video to her Facebook page in March, saying she was suffering from "a little bit of depression as well as PTSD," or post-traumatic stress disorder. Friend and mentor LaVaughn Mosley of Prairie View believes Bland was just venting after a bad day.
Waller County District Attorney Elton Mathis says no cameras were in the jail cell where Bland was found dead. But he says videos from cameras monitoring the hall outside her cell show no one entered or left it between the time she last spoke with deputies through an intercom system and when her body was discovered.
CBS Chicago reports Waller County Sheriff R. Glenn Smith says jailers saw Bland at about 7 a.m. on the day of her death and then spoke to her over an intercom around an hour later.
"They did not physically go down there. And that's wrong. That's a violation of the jail commission rules," Smith told the station.
CBS affiliate KHOU reports the Texas Commission of Jail Standards has since cited the jail for failing to observe inmates face-to-face at least once per hour and failing to train staff on how to handle inmates who are mentally disabled and/or suicidal.
The Texas Department of Public Safety has also since said the trooper who pulled Bland over violated traffic stop procedures and the department's courtesy policy. The trooper is on administrative leave pending the outcome of an investigation.
The Texas Rangers and the FBI are involved in the investigation and Bland's family is asking for the Department of Justice to also intervene.
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