State Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, on Thursday filed House Bill 2702, dubbed the Sandra Bland Act.
The exhaustive piece of legislation would expand what qualifies as racial and ethnic profiling; mandate people experiencing a mental health crisis and substance abuse be diverted to treatment over jail; and create more training and reporting requirements for county jails and law enforcement.
The legislation is named in honor of Sandra Bland, a black, 28-year-old Illinois woman who was found dead in an apparent suicide in the Waller County Jail in 2015.
Bland was pulled over in Prairie View on July 10, 2015, by then-Texas Department of Public Safety trooper Brian Encinia after she failed to signal a lane change. When Bland's conversation with Encinia became heated, he arrested her on a charge of assaulting a public servant. She was found dead in her cell three days later.
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Bland shouldn't have been arrested, Coleman said during a news conference to announce the bill's filing.
"It led to a death that didn't have to occur," said Coleman, who chairs the House County Affairs Committee.
The Sandra Bland Act would make several changes to how Texas law enforcement officials and jailers interact with those they stop or detain:
Diversion and treatment
- Substance abuse would be added to the list of treatment services eligible for Department of State Health Services grant money that already supports public and private sector efforts to tackle homelessness and mental illness locally.
- Counties would be required to develop a plan for how local mental health authorities, law enforcement groups and other community organizations will work with people experiencing homelessness, mental health crises and/or substance abuse.
- Police officers would be required to make a "good-faith effort" to divert people to treatment — instead of arresting them — if they are experiencing a mental crisis or substance abuse. Officers would be expected to do so if "reasonably possible"; if the crime they're accused of is a non-violent misdemeanor; and if it happened because of their mental health state or substance abuse.
- County jails would be required to ensure inmates continue to receive medication they would be taking if they weren't in jail.
- Defendants would be released on personal bond if they have not been charged with and or previously convicted of a violent crime, unless a magistrate "finds good cause to justify not releasing the defendant on personal bond."
Services while in jail
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- The Commission on Jail Standards would be required to establish minimum standards for "use of force, prevention of sexual assault, the management of intoxicated inmates, and the continuity of medication for inmates upon entry and release from the jail."
- Inmates in all county jails would have round-the-clock access to a mental health professional.
- All county jails would be required to have nurses available for every shift, as well as automatic sensors to "ensure accurate and timely cell checks."
- The bill would establish the County Inmate Safety Fund to help fund reforms for county jails that have inmate populations of 96 or fewer.
Jail incident accountability
- Sheriffs would be required to report "serious incidents" — such as suicides, attempted suicides, other deaths, assaults and escapes — to the Commission on Jail Standards each month.
- When there's an inmate death, a law enforcement agency that doesn't operate the jail would be required to investigate the incident. The agency that runs the jail would begin the investigation, then turn it over to an agency appointed by the Texas Department of Public Safety.
- Law enforcement officers would be required to complete "a statewide education and training program on de-escalation techniques."
- County jailers would be required to complete 24 hours of training on how to interact with people who have "mental impairments."
- Agencies would be required to provide a complaints process for all tickets, citations and warnings.
- Law enforcement agencies would be required to review data on stops to determine if there are racial disparities between drivers who are stopped and the racial and ethnic makeup of the county.
- Officers found to be profiling drivers would be required to go to counseling and training. If that officer is later found to be profiling again, the bill would mandate they be suspended "for not less than six months" and be required to go through counseling and training again.
Motor vehicle stops
- Officers would be prohibited from conducting a "roadside investigation" during a stop for a crime other than the traffic violation, unless they have suspicion that another crime has been committed based upon a "preponderance of the evidence" — a higher standard than "reasonable suspicion."
- Officers would be prohibited from conducting an investigation into a crime other than the traffic violation after a driver has refused to "consent to be searched," unless the officer has suspicion based on "preponderance of the evidence."
- Officers would be prohibited from arresting someone for a misdemeanor that is "punishable by a fine only."
Complaints against officers, accountability in jails
- Law enforcement agencies would be required to have a system in place for processing and compiling data on complaints from members of the public, including people incarcerated.
- An independent ombudsman's office would be created to monitor the services provided to county jail inmates and "ensure that the rights of adults in county jails are fully observed."