Bland Arrest, Death Prompt Legislative Hearing

Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, on the House floor on May 7, 2015.
Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, on the House floor on May 7, 2015.

Following the controversial arrest and death of Sandra Bland in Waller County, a Houston lawmaker will convene a Texas House committee hearing Thursday to look at trooper arrest procedures and state jail standards. 

"This isn't to beat up on somebody," said state Rep. Garnet Coleman, chairman of the Texas House Committee on County Affairs. "We want to solve problems." 

Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw has confirmed he will testify at the hearing, along with Limestone County Sheriff Dennis Wilson, who has for years voiced concerns about problems facing Texas jails. Brandon Wood, executive director of the Texas Commission on Jail Standards, the agency that oversees local lockups, will also testify. 

Waller County Sheriff Glenn Smith has been invited and may attend. 

Coleman said he called the hearing following Bland's July 10 arrest for a minor traffic violation and death by hanging three days later in the Waller County Jail, about 50 miles northwest of Houston.

 

"I still can't figure out how someone gets pulled over and gets stopped for changing lanes and ends up dead," Coleman said. "It doesn't make any sense."

Bland, a 28-year-old African-American woman from Chicago, was taking a new job at her alma mater, Prairie View A&M University, when she was stopped by DPS Trooper Brian Encinia near the entrance of the historically black college. Dashboard camera video of Bland's arrest was released last week, sparking worldwide outrage.

In the video, Encinia is shown losing his temper with Bland, who refused to comply with his orders to get out of the vehicle and put out her cigarette. Encinia is seen on the video threatening to "light her up" with a Taser and then arresting her for attacking him, a public servant. Three days later she was found hanged in her cell with a trash can liner. The death, ruled a suicide by the Harris County medical examiner, will be presented to grand jury next month. 

Booking documents indicate Bland told jail personnel she had epilepsy and was taking the anti-seizure drug Keppra and had attempted suicide before. The Houston Chronicle reported late Tuesday that Bland was not taking Keppra at the time of her death. Doctors warn epilepsy patients that they must gradually reduce their dosages before changing or stopping medication. And Keppra, like many other anti-seizure drugs, comes with serious side effects. According to the Waller County Jail's medication purchase documents, Bland requested the pain reliever Aleve twice. She did not request any other medications.

A preliminary toxicology report released on Monday indicates she had marijuana in her bloodstream when she died. 

"As of today, I cannot confirm if she did or did not receive medication while she was in the Waller County Jail," Capt. Brian Cantrell of the Waller County Sheriff's Office told The Texas Tribune on Monday.

 

Sign Up for The Brief

Our daily news summary