Sandra Bland's Death Probe Being Treated Like a Murder Investigation, DA Says

Supporters are calling for an independent Justice Department investigation.

ByABC News
July 20, 2015, 9:29 PM

— -- A local district attorney says that the probe into Sandra Bland's death after a traffic stop is being treated "like a murder investigation," despite preliminary information indicating that she committed suicide.

Bland was arrested July 10 after a traffic stop and died three days later in her cell, sparking questions about the manner of her death and outrage. An autopsy found that she died by asphyxiation and that she used a plastic trash bag to hang herself from a partition in her cell.

"This is being treated like a murder investigation," Waller County District Attorney Elton Mathis said Monday evening. "I want fingerprints run. I want...DNA tests run on the trash bag."

He also called for "any other valid scientific testing that we have so we can say with certainty what happened in her cell."

"There are too many questions that still need to be resolved," Mathis added.

The case is being run by the Texas Rangers and is being supervised by the FBI, Mathis said. But local church pastors say they and Bland’s relatives believe the case should be investigated by Attorney General Loretta Lynch and the Department of Justice.

Her relatives have called for an independent autopsy to be completed as well, with the results expected by Tuesday.

The DA's statement about the case came as Capt. Brian Cantrell, of the Waller County Sheriff's Office, gave a more detailed account of what happened after Bland's arrest as their department released three hours of footage from inside the jail.

Cantrell said that Bland was taken to Waller County Jail after refusing medical attention on the scene after a confrontation with police.

There, she was placed in a cell alone because she was deemed a "high risk" inmate to the safety of others based on the nature of the charge against her, Cantrell said.

On the morning of Monday, July 13, jailers checked on Bland and she said she was "fine," according to Cantrell.

The jailer also said that she could use a phone that was located in the cell using a PIN number. There were no records of a call being made, Cantrell said.

Just before 9 a.m., when jailers returned to see if she wanted to go to the recreation hall, they found her hanging from the privacy portion of her cell.

According to Cantrell, they then put her on the ground to administer CPR.

Preliminary information from the medical examiner's office indicated that she died from self-inflicted asphyxiation, Cantrell said.

"The death of Miss Bland was a tragic incident, not one of... criminal intent," Cantrell told reporters. He also expressed the department's "sincere condolences" for the death.

In the wake of the incident, all trash bag liners were removed from the cells at the jail. No jailers have been disciplined as of yet.

Dash cam footage of the traffic stop may be released Tuesday, Cantrell said.

Mathis said that Bland appeared to be "very combative" during the traffic stop.

"It was not a model traffic stop and it was not a model person that was stopped," Mathis told reporters, referring to whether or not Bland was compliant.

He noted that the dash cam footage may not clarify what happened because much of the activity takes place in Bland's car, of which there was a limited view.

Supporters of Bland, a 28-year-old woman and Black Lives Matter activist who was arrested July 10 and found dead in her cell three days later, said today they have already seen the dash-cam video that they say shows an officer dragging Bland out of her car and chastising her for smoking in her vehicle.

"She has the right to smoke in her car. That is her right," the Rev. Jamal Harrison Bryant of Baltimore, who has been working to raise awareness of the case, said at a news conference in Texas this morning.

Mathis said that the assertion that Bland was pulled out of her car window was untrue.

Byrant said “there are many questions that must be answered.”

“We are not satisfied with the explanation that she committed suicide,” he said.

“We are in a state of emergency here in Texas. We are not afraid of ISIS, we're afraid of the police.”