What You Need To Know About The Bizarre Death Of Sandra Bland

The latest incident to shine a national spotlight on the issue of police brutality against African Americans is the tragic and mysterious death of Sandra Bland, an Illinois resident who was also a vocal critic of police brutality. Last week, police in Texas found her dead in her Waller County Jail cell — three days after a state trooper arrested her at a traffic stop. While the police have ruled her death a suicide, her family and supporters don’t believe this version of events. Anger, pain, and a search for answers have led to social media campaigns and real-life protests.

Here’s what you need to know about the story up to this point:

The Arrest

– On the afternoon of July 10, a Texas State Trooper named Brian Encinia pulled Bland over for failing to signal while changing lanes.

– He pulled her over in Prairie View, Texas, near Prairie View A&M University, a historically black university that Bland had graduated from in 2009, according to NBC News. She had just interviewed for and gotten a job in student outreach there, according to Ebony.

– The Chicago Tribune broke the news of her arrest and subsequent death in custody. They report that during the traffic stop, Bland was arrested and then charged with “assault of a public servant.” Here’s more of their timeline:

Bland was arraigned after her Friday arrest and held in lieu of $5,000 bond, Smith said.

The county jail has two “tanks” for women, Smith said, and Bland had been placed alone in one of the tanks.

She was given breakfast about 7 a.m. Monday, he said, and she spoke to staff about an hour later about making a phone call.

A female jailer found her about 9 a.m., Smith said.

Paramedics were called and CPR was administered, he said, but she was pronounced dead shortly afterward.

The Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences in Houston performed an autopsy on Bland on Tuesday, with the death ruled a suicide through hanging, according to Tricia Bentley, an institute spokeswoman.

– The Tribune quoted a Texas Department of Public Safety spokesperson as saying that her arresting officer had tried to write her a warning while they were both outside her car. He said that the officer arrested her after she kicked him.

Video Footage

– The Texas Department of Public Safety released the dashcam video from Bland’s arrest on Wednesday, after pulling similar video on Tuesday due to “glitches” in the footage. Critics accused them of editing it.


– According to the LA Times, this latest video is three minutes shorter, and seems to dispute the Texas authorities’ initial account that Bland kicked Encinia. It shows Encinia threatening Bland with a taser after she refuses to step out of her car during the arrest. Here’s the full video (Bland is pulled over around the 2:15 mark)…

In the video, Encinia initially asks Bland to put out her cigarette. “Would you mind putting out your cigarette, please?” Encinia says.

“I’m in my car, why do I have to put out my cigarette?” Bland answers.

“Well, you can step on out now,” Encinia responds. Bland refuses, saying she does not have to step out of the car. Encinia opens the driver’s door and attempts to physically remove Bland from the vehicle.

“I’m going to yank you out of here,” Encinia says as the two struggle in the car. “I’m going to drag you out of here.”

“Don’t touch me, I’m not under arrest,” Bland says.

“I will light you up!” Encinia says, while pointing the stun gun at Bland.

When she does step out, he roughly handcuffs her and leads her off. Bland can be heard yelling about Encinia slamming her head on the ground.

Questions Raised About Her Death

– People are questioning the official account of Bland’s arrest and death — that she committed suicide by hanging herself. Her family has asked for an independent autopsy, and have disputed accusations that Bland suffered from depression.

– NBC also says that the Texas Commission on Jail Standards criticized how Waller County officials treated Bland while in custody:

The Texas Commission on Jail Standards criticized the Waller County Jail for insufficient training and for failing to check on inmates face-to-face every hour, and ordered it to come into compliance.

The Waller County Sheriff’s Office said its jailers had received mental health training, though not in the past year. The office acknowledged that guards used the intercom to check in on Bland rather than an in-person inspection as required. But the sheriff’s office said it has no reason to believe either of these deficiencies contributed to Bland’s death.

– The Texas Rangers and the FBI are currently investigating Bland’s death.


– Posts mourning Bland and expressing outrage at her death have cropped up in recent days under various Twitter and Facebook hashtags, including #JusticeForSandy and #WhatHappenedToSandyBland.

– Uproxx did a Twitter round up of #IfIDieInPoliceCustody, which was trending over the weekend.

– An older hashtag, #SayHerName, which spotlights women who have died in police custody, has also reemerged in social media protests over Bland’s death.

– There have been in-person protests too, with over 100 people demonstrating outside the jail where Bland died last week.