On July 10, after being pulled over for allegedly not signaling a turn, Sandra Bland was arrested by a police officer who claimed she assaulted him. Bland was brought to Waller County Jail and was found dead in her cell three days later. The Harris County medical examiner claimed her death was a suicide by hanging, but Waller County District Attorney Elton Mathis stated earlier this week the investigation into Bland's death would be carried out as if it were a murder. But what will happen if Sandra Bland's death is tried as murder?
If enough evidence surfaces that Bland's death was the result of police brutality, those responsible would certainly face charges similar to those facing the six Baltimore officers involved in the fatal arrest of 25-year-old Freddie Gray. Those charges could possibly include criminal negligence, misconduct, or even involuntary manslaughter depending on the exact circumstances of her death. If a district attorney finds enough evidence that suggests Bland had died from police actions, a preliminary hearing would take place. At the preliminary hearing, a grand jury would review whether or not there was sufficient evidence for an indictment on the charges, which would allow the case to move to trial. If Bland's death was found to be a case of racially motivated murder, as some allege, life in prison, and even the death penalty could be on the table, according to hate crime laws in the United States.
Bland's mysterious death is certainly not the first event to raise suspicions about prejudice in police hands. In April, Gray died in a hospital one week after suffering from "a severe and critical neck injury" while being transported "handcuffed, shackled by his feet and unrestrained" inside a police van, Baltimore City State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby stated. In May, the six police officers who arrested and transported Gray to the Western District Station faced charges including one count of second-degree depraved-heart murder, involuntary manslaughter, second-degree assault, manslaughter by vehicle (gross negligence), manslaughter by vehicle (criminal negligence), and misconduct in office.
In a situation eerily similar to Bland's, 50-year-old Walter Scott was fatally shot by a police officer in April after trying to flee on foot from a standard traffic stop. That confrontation was caught on tape by a bystander, and Michael Slager, the officer charged with Scott's murder, was immediately arrested and put in the Charleston County Jail. Two months later, Slager was indicted on the murder charge, and could face 30 years to life in prison if convicted.
Whether or not police brutality was a factor in her death is hotly debated as released dash cam footage from Encinia's car did not show their confrontation in its entirety and security tapes from inside the jail appeared to show that no one entered or exited from Bland's cell i the hours leading up to her death.
Even if Bland's death is ruled a suicide, the attention on her case should enact reform in Waller County Jail if only in terms of how guards supervise those with mental conditions. Authorities released numerous documents this week pertaining to Bland's alleged mental state and, on Wednesday, released forms reportedly filled out by Bland that indicated she may have attempted suicide once prior to her arrest and had a history of depression. Bland was in the care of guards who had knowledge of her mental condition and should have been put her under proper supervision. That, in itself, could have prevented Bland's death.
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