State Jail Commission Cites Waller County Officials After Investigating Sandra Bland's Death

In the wake of a woman's in-custody death that has gained national attention and suspicion, the Texas Commission on Jail Standards on Thursday cited the Waller County Jail for substandard training in how to handle potentially suicidal and mentally disabled inmates.

The jail was also cited for failure to personally observe an inmate at least once an hour, according to the Commission's executive director, Brandon Wood. The jail was previously cited for violating the 60-minute observation standard in 2012, after an inmate hanged himself with a bed sheet. 

Wood said he could not elaborate on the notices of non-compliance, which were issued to Waller County Sheriff Glenn Smith and Waller County Judge Carbett "Trey" Duhon III.

State standards require jails to check inmates against a Department of State Health Services database to "determine if the inmate has previously received state mental healthcare," and to assign mentally disabled and/or potentially suicidal inmates to "appropriate houses," among other steps. 

Officials have said Sandra Bland hanged herself with a plastic trash bag July 13, three days after a routine traffic stop escalated into a charge of assault on a police officer. 

Citing a Texas Department of Public Safety spokesman, the Houston Chronicle reports that a DPS trooper stopped Bland near Prairie View A&M University around 4:30 p.m. July 10 for changing lanes without signaling, and that "the trooper ordered her out of the car because she was argumentative and uncooperative, he said, adding that she was about to be issued a written warning when she kicked the trooper who had pulled her over. At that point, she was arrested and charged with assault on a public servant."

A bystander's video of the arrest shows an officer pinning Bland to the ground as she shouts, "You just slammed my head into the ground. Do you not even care about that? I can't hear." 

A DPS press release states that "a Prairie View police officer also responded to the scene and provided assistance. Waller County EMS was also called to the scene, but Bland refused a medical review by EMS. She was then booked into the Waller County Jail."

The Texas Rangers and FBI are investigating Bland's death, and the DPS release states it's investigating the traffic stop. In the meantime, the lack of details has fueled nationwide skepticism, outrage and suspicion that racism may have played a role in Bland's death.  Waller County Sheriff Glenn Smith was fired from his position as the city of Hempstead's police chief in 2007 after residents accused four white officers of racism. Smith was suspended after the Hempstead City Council viewed videotapes of officers' arrests and booking of African-American males. (We're a little unclear on what the videos showed, but critics at the time told media that the males were subjected to "humiliating" strip searches.) 

After more residents came forward with allegations of racism, the City Council gave Smith a vote of no-confidence, ending his career there.

Jail surveillance video doesn't show anyone entering Bland's cell, Waller County District Attorney Elton Mathis said at a Thursday night press conference. However, there's no actual video "of the inside of the jail cell itself," the Dallas Morning News reports.

For the most part, county and state officials have been reluctant to release details, citing the ongoing investigations. But Senator Royce West (D-Dallas) asked DPS Director Steven McCraw to release "audio-visual evidence recorded by law enforcement in answer to demands for public accountability and transparency." (We have reached out to West's office to try to find out if McCraw has responded).

Meanwhile, media outlets in Texas and Illinois — Bland's home state — have searched for any possible clues in Bland's background that might shed light on what happened. Chicago ABC affiliate WLS reported that Bland claimed to have depression and PTSD in a March 2015 Facebook video.

Another Chicago station listed Bland's previous police encounters in both states, including a DUI conviction in May 2014.

Update 6:15 pm: The Texas Department of Public Safety has assigned the officer who stopped and ultimately arrested Sandra Bland to administrative duty, saying a preliminary review indicates he violated department policies and procedures. Here's the statement DPS sent out this afternoon:
The Department of Public Safety (DPS) values and strives to demonstrate our commitment to protecting the public through our actions based on fairness, respect and courteously serving those we contact.

In the preliminary review of the traffic stop that occurred in Prairie View on July 10, 2015, involving Sandra Bland, we have identified violations of the department’s procedures regarding traffic stops and the department’s courtesy policy.

Pending the outcome of the Texas Ranger and FBI investigation into this incident, the employee involved has been assigned administrative duties. At the conclusion of this investigation, any violations of protocols will be addressed.

The District Attorney and DPS have also requested that the FBI conduct a forensic analysis of the videos related to this case. The video footage will be shared with the public as soon as possible.