The cause of Sandra Bland’s death was hanging; the manner of death was suicide, a prosecutor told reporters, citing preliminary autopsy results.
Warren Diepraam, a Waller County, Texas, prosecutor, provided new details Thursday to support those findings.
Bland — a black woman whose arrest and, days later, death in custody stirred anger nationwide — did not have injuries on her hands. Defensive injuries there are typical, though not always found, in cases of violent homicide, Diepraam said.
“There were no bite marks or other injuries on her face, on her lips, on her tongue, which would be consistent with a violent struggle,” he said.
If there had been a violent struggle, the prosecutor said, examiners would most likely not expect to see a uniform and consistent mark around Bland’s neck — which is what they, in fact, observed. They also did not observe damage to her trachea and esophagus, which they might expect to see if there had been a violent struggle, he said.
She did have approximately 30 “cut marks,” on her left wrist, according to Diepraam, which were in a state of healing. Bland also had lacerations or abrasions on her wrists, which are consistent with being handcuffed and struggling, he said.
Additionally, she had scabs on her back, on the right side of her shoulder blade, which could indicate that someone applied force there, or that she applied force against an object, Diepraam said. He told reporters Bland had marijuana in her system at the time of her death.
Although the early autopsy results offer, in his words, “very overwhelming evidence,” Diepraam stressed to CNN’s “Erin Burnett OutFront” that the case is not closed.
“I feel comfortable that their findings are correct, but there’s still a lot of information out there so we’re not forming any conclusions at this point,” he said. “Nothing is certain.”
State report: Jail that held Bland did not make timely checks
The same day preliminary results were released, CNN obtained a report that shows guards in the jail that held Bland violated policies by failing to do timely checks on inmates.
The formulaic, two-page “special inspection report” from the Texas Commission on Jail Standards does not mention Bland by name. But it was filed on July 16, three days after Bland’s body was found in her cell, a death that authorities characterized as a suicide, but that family, friends and their supporters think is suspicious.
A timeline from the Waller County Sheriff’s Office of what’s seen in video from the jail states that a male guard stopped and briefly talked with Bland shortly after 7 a.m., but no one came back to check on her until 8:55 a.m.
That’s when jail personnel found her not breathing and hanged with a trash bag from a metal barrier that separated the bathroom from the rest of her cell, a death the sheriff’s office said “appears to be self-inflicted asphyxiation.”
The state report notes that there should be a “visual, face-to-face observation of all inmates by jailers no less than once every 60 minutes.” Not nearly two hours, as was the case in Bland.
In fact, the inspection report found that “documentation … revealed that Waller County is not completing (such checks) as required by Minimum Jail Standards.”
That’s not the only apparent violation.
The same report states county officials didn’t provide proof that jail staff had two hours of annual training with “the local mental health authorities … in accordance with their approved Mental Disabilities/Suicide Prevention Plan.”
“The training is to include the recognition, supervision, documentation and handling of inmates who are mentally disabled and/or potentially suicidal,” it says.
Conflicting info about suicidal thoughts on documents
A form that appeared to be filled out by hand after her arrest states that Bland tried to overdose with pills in 2014 after losing a baby. And there are check marks next to “yes” on these questions:
• Have you ever been depressed?
• Do you feel this way now?
• Have you had thoughts of killing yourself in the past year?
• Have you ever attempted suicide?
Yet a separate document, which appears to be from a computer, has “no” answers next to questions about mental illness and attempted suicide. A reason for the apparent discrepancy was not immediately clear.
“I have a hard time dealing with inconsistency and that seems to have been the theme over the last couple of days here,” Bland’s sister, Sharon Cooper told CNN’s “Erin Burnett OutFront” on Wednesday.
Says Waller County Sheriff R. Glenn Smith: “There is absolutely no doubt in my mind (Bland committed suicide).”
Separately, an inmate who was held in a cell adjacent to Bland told CNN she did not hear any commotion or screaming that would suggest foul play before the 28-year-old woman was found dead.
The woman said Bland wasn’t eating, and was emotional, and often crying during her three days in the jail. She was also stressed about missing her first day of work at her new job, said Alexandria Pyle.
“She found out her bond was $5,000, and no one — she was calling and calling — and no one was answering, and then after that she just broke down. She was crying and crying,” Pyle said.
Minister: Family doesn’t accept narrative Bland was suicidal
If Bland was suicidal, author and activist DeWayne Charleston said the blame lays on Smith, his office and his jailers for not doing more to keep her alive.
“Maybe they didn’t have information about her mental state — it doesn’t matter,” Charleston, a former Waller County justice of the peace, told CNN. “She was in (Smith’s) care, custody and control, and he bears responsibility.”
Yet Charleston and many others don’t buy the idea that Bland killed herself.
Theresa Dear — a long-time minister at DuPage AME Church outside Chicago, which Bland attended growing up — noted that, as Bland tried to get money to post $5,000 bail, she had a bright future to look forward to and looked likely to be released soon.
“How could someone go from a place of being excited about the future to now wanting to take their own life?” Dear told CNN’s “New Day,” accusing officials of selectively putting out “crumbs and morsels,” but not the full story. “We, as a family and a community who love Sandra Bland, do not accept … this narrative that the Texas authorities are putting in the media that she had suicidal tendencies.”
Friend: ‘Something went terribly wrong’
Another thing that has angered Bland’s supporters, and raised their suspicions even more, is how and why she was arrested in the first place.
The charge she faced was assault on a public servant. Yet this only happened after she was pulled over for allegedly failing to use her turn signal on July 10.
What started as a seemingly normal conversation got testy after Texas state Trooper Brian Encinia asked Bland to put out her cigarette.
She asks why, at which point the officer tells Bland to get out of the car. She refuses, and dashcam video shows the officer reaching in, threatening Bland with a Taser: “I will light you up!”
In his arrest warrant affidavit, Encinia wrote that Bland became “combative and uncooperative” and that she was placed in handcuffs “for officer safety.”
Bland’s family doesn’t think the traffic stop over a turn signal should have escalated to an arrest.
“I simply feel like the officer was picking on her, and I believe that is petty,” her sister Sharon Cooper told CNN’s “Erin Burnett OutFront.”
LaVaughn Mosley, who says Bland left him a voicemail after her arrest indicating she was “at a loss for words” but not hinting about suicide, said it is all a shame — especially her death.
“Here is a young black female who was on her way to being successful,” Mosley said. “I don’t know what happened in that jailhouse, but obviously something went terribly wrong.”