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The Sandra Bland Act

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Sandra Bland

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.

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.

There’s more on the bill in the story, so go check it out. You know how I feel about this. Rep. Coleman has been working on this, which implements the reforms that were agreed to in the settlement of the lawsuit filed by bland’s family, for some time now. If anyone is going to get the details right, it’s Rep. Coleman. Let’s hope this gets a good reception. Grits has more.

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19 Comments

  1. Bill Daniels says:

    There was a problem with the Bland affair, and it is summed up perfectly in the story:

    “Bland shouldn’t have been arrested, Coleman said during a news conference to announce the bill’s filing.”

    I agree. Bland should never have been dragged out of the car. The stop was over at the point the trooper walked back up to Bland’s car. He had completed his exhaustive investigation, and found no actionable crimes or warrants, so it was all over but the signing of the warning, which is probably the simplest way for the trooper to make his quota of citizen contacts. Give her the warning ticket to sign, or, if you want to be petty, tell her to hold on and go back and print out an actual traffic ticket for her to sign because she was being petty.

    This bill does nothing to address the underlying problem. Why not just make a bill that states, “contempt of cop” is NOT an arrestable offense? That was the root cause of the whole affair. That is where this thing went wrong. I don’t think race played a role in this, and I don’t blame the jail (they seemed to go out of their way to help her make phone calls, etc.). Bland failed to “respect his authoritah,” so the trooper showed her who was the big dog. Two power trippers meeting up generally doesn’t have a good outcome.

    This bill, is a solution to the wrong problems. I hope it is soundly defeated.

    Coleman needs to create a simple bill that states “contempt of cop” is not an offense, period. Anything else is political theater.

  2. Steve Houston says:

    Bill, why does the jail get a pass from you? During their interview of her, she indicated signs of having mental illness and giving false answers which should have alerted them to a problem. Then, it was proven they did not check up on her as listed in their log books. For those two actions, Waller County had the privilege of paying $1.8 million; DPS paying the remaining $100k.

  3. Bill Daniels says:

    Steve,

    I’m sure most people who end up in jail, especially frequent flyers like Bland, present the same way….sketchy, lying, saying things to try and cause drama, etc. Waller County got scammed, bigly. The DPS had culpability for an unnecessary arrest, IMHO. I was OK with their payout, but the dollar amount was way too high.

    Bland’s record tells the tale…drama queen who didn’t feel like the rules of polite society apply to her. And when she finally realized that she couldn’t just bulldoze through life by creating the loudest temper tantrum, she killed herself. That’s on her, possibly on her family, but not on the Waller County jail. She was a train wreck looking for someplace to happen, and even if Waller County had checked up on her, how long does it take to suffocate? All checking on her more frequently would have done is made the discovery of the body take place sooner.

  4. Bill Daniels says:

    *applied

  5. paul a kubosh says:

    Steve,

    First of what happened to Bland was terrible and she shouldn’t have been arrested. I 100% in her camp. My question for you Steve is was that a Jury verdict?

  6. Bill Daniels says:

    Paul,

    This was not a jury verdict, the county just laid down. If I was a Waller County taxpayer, I’d be highly upset at those who chose to frivolously give away my hard earned tax money. Keep in mind this happened during the previous pro-criminal administration, so I wouldn’t be surprised if O’s Justice Department was breathing down Waller County’s neck to pay off the family.

    https://www.theatlantic.com/news/archive/2016/09/sandra-bland-settlement/500177/

  7. Steve Houston says:

    PK, I wasn’t addressing the arrest, merely asking Bill why he had no problems with the county staff not following their own protocols which led to her death. While what he says about her appears to be largely true, it is also true that the burden of how an agency treats someone in their legal custody is on that agency. Their rules required checking on all prisoners every 30 minutes yet not only was that not followed by they admitted to falsifying the logs as though they had. That alone is pretty compelling reason to expect them to settle versus hope a jury from the area wouldn’t smack them much worse, the legal fees for dragging it out years on end likely to skyrocket all on their own.

    But whether she was a drama queen, anti-rule loving train wreck as Bill describes or not, she had been having episodes of mental illness, was on prescription meds, and when she first indicated she had problems (whether from her miscarriage, her attempt at suicide she admitted to, or all of her many run ins with the law), that should have been Waller County’s first clue to keep a close eye on her. They were responsible for her well being and dropped the ball. Why Bland’s family bears any guilt for their grown daughter in your mind is something only you can tell but given how many arrests and charges she had faced over the years, I can’t blame them for letting her sit it out awhile.

    PK, as far as the arrest, given just how extensive her record was (in Illinois and Texas) from DWI’s, various drug charges, and all the encounters where she didn’t have insurance, was speeding, and so forth, she knew the drill about how to act. Whether she was trying to hide the pot some say she ate or thought a false sense of bravado toward the trooper would get him to keep his distance, the stop wasn’t over when he ordered her to exit the vehicle. His case coming to trial may cause further details to come forth but kicking a trooper is not a good move regardless of who you are. But as Bill said, the settlement was made by the involved parties and signed off by the judge, no jury getting to hear the facts. If the case remained in Waller, you know darned well that everyone from the school would be trying to get on the jury to help boost one narrative, had the case been moved to west Texas, the settlement offered would have been much lower.

  8. Bill Daniels says:

    @Steve:

    Bland’s family might have some responsibility if they failed to discipline her, and raise her to be a productive member of society that follows the law. I know sometimes, the apple falls far from the tree, but all too often bad parenting leads to bad kids. I merely indicated that this could be a factor, not that it definitely was a factor.

    And yeah, forging records about how often you looked in on a prisoner is bad, but I don’t see how that contributed to her death.

  9. Steve Houston says:

    Bill, if the jailers had simply checked in on her as a regular prisoner every half hour like their own policy demands they do, it is much more likely they would have been able to save her. As it stands, we have no real idea if they checked in on her every two hours, every four hours, or whatever, the inefficient manner of hanging herself apparently taking some amount of time. But consider that they ALSO had evidence of her mental instability which would mean even more close scrutiny than their normal half hour routine, perhaps placing Bland in a cell without a trash receptacle she could use to hang herself… But if you still think the jail had little or no responsibility, I won’t bother further as that would be like arguing with Joe over his demands politicians cut and paste ideas for their websites or pointing out to the other Bobsy twin how Mayor Turner did not originate taxi ordinances in the city.

    The family angle is just pure speculation at this point, not a shred of evidence to support that theory other than her extensive criminal record or lousy work history littered with places like McDonald’s and other minimum wage jobs after college, both missing any direct link to the family. Given you believe the settlement was too much, exactly how much do you think it should have been for considering the jail messed up in two serious ways, leading to her death? Now that the facts are out how she did indeed suffer from mental illness, there was cause for the jail to know this, and they did not act in a reasonable manner to insure her safety, that seems a little light…

  10. Flypusher says:

    “And yeah, forging records about how often you looked in on a prisoner is bad, but I don’t see how that contributed to her death.”

    It’s called a cover up. That alone is enough to bust you. In this case they covered up the fact that they weren’t following protocols that could have prevented the suicide. They failed in their duties; they have liability.

    All this talk of Bland’s record is just a fallacy of distraction. The jail staff is equally negligent for their failure to follow protocol in her case as they would be with a prisoner with no priors who committed suicide on their watch.

  11. Bill Daniels says:

    @Steve:

    For me to feel like Waller County owed any money, you’d have to prove that it takes longer that, say, 25 minutes to hang yourself. Let’s say they did check on her every 30 minutes. She was there long enough to figure out the pattern…..jailer comes by every 30 minutes, so she has some idea just how long she has to herself before the next check. If you tell me that she shouldn’t have had access to a trash bag in the cell, I’d say OK, that’s a good idea going forward, but be honest…..who had ever heard of someone hanging themselves with a trash bag? At the time she was incarcerated, that wasn’t known to be a foreseeable hazard, just like box cutters weren’t banned on flights until 9-11 because it wasn’t foreseeable that Muslims would take down planes with them. Live and learn.

    So, to answer the question, unless it takes longer than 25 minutes to hang yourself, jailers following protocol wouldn’t have necessarily saved Bland, and thus, I would have not only given her nothing, I would have awarded court costs to be paid by the family and their attorneys for filing a frivolous lawsuit.

    Even if we just wanted to give money because we felt sorry for the family, it’s not like Bland was someone who would have had any significant lifetime earnings to speak of. It seems she was unable or unwilling to even pay all the traffic fines she racked up. She also had no dependents. The family traded in a screw up they wouldn’t even bail out of jail for a pile of taxpayer money they definitely did not earn.

    Call me unsympathetic.

    I do agree, though, that the PV students and faculty would have tried to pack the jury to award damages, merits of the case be damned.

  12. Bill Daniels says:

    Edit: As stated earlier, I do think the DPS was culpable for the arrest. I would have been OK with a $ 5-10K payout for that. I figure if I was in Bland’s situation, that’s what I would think was fair for me getting arrested because the trooper and I both had to see who was the alpha dog. If it was me with the trash bag in the cell, I wouldn’t feel like my family was owed anything just because I dreamed up a novel way to off myself, and I don’t think it would take a rocket scientist to figure out the guard comes by every 30 minutes, especially for someone like Bland, who had plenty of jailhouse experience.

  13. Steve Houston says:

    Bill, during her entry interview with jailers, she indicated she had tried to commit suicide recently, was depressed, and on medication for it. By all means go avail yourself of the documents that are freely available online. As such, she was a prime candidate for being on a suicide watch where she would not have been able to access anything to hang herself. But they overlooked all that because it was more convenient to do so.

    Then, given hanging by trash bag was indeed established as a viable means of prisoner’s hanging themselves since the state started tracking methods of inmate suicide in 2009, it might have been a good idea to remove said item from her cell (the Texas Tribune wrote an article on all that titled: “In Texas Jails, Hanging Most Common Method of Inmate Suicide” on July 24, 2015). But for the very reason you mention, the jailers are supposed to vary their rounds, another jail protocol that wasn’t followed, so while someone with a more efficient means of asphyxiating themselves might be able to commit the act in 5 to 10 minutes, we’ll never know just how long it took since the jailers didn’t bother to check the cells nearly as frequently as they were charged to do.

    Your generosity is duly noted though, the ghoulish task of assigning a value to human life is never easy by rational people so I’m not going to beat you up about it, merely suggest that courts would throw your methods out quickly given they apparently fail to reasonably hold the jail accountable for their own rules. I’m no Bland sympathizer given she tried to assert her dominance over a newly minted rookie trooper on a traffic stop but the jailers dropped the ball in a big way and everyone recognizes it, Waller County nearly $2 million bucks poorer because of it. So claiming she killed herself in a “novel way” when it really wasn’t novel at all, and lobbing attacks at her family that were some 1100 miles away when all this happened is just mean so we can agree to disagree this time.

  14. C. L. says:

    Hold me down, I may actually be on Bill’s side on this case. Blame Waller County ? You might as well blame the bag manufacturer who designed a product that can be tied in a knot.

  15. Jason Hochman says:

    Interesting to see this debate about the jail, because, I have actually worked as an officer in a jail. Let’s just say that there is a standard, jails are supposed to do a check every hour, but the standard doesn’t always get met. Jails are understaffed and working there is no picnic. When you get on suicide watch, it will probably drive you over the edge if you’re not there already, sitting in segregation with your paper gown and paper blanket, with nothing to do, is not gonna help your state of mind.

    Sandra Bland never should have been arrested, but both she and the trooper escalated the situation. As I recall, he asked her to put out her cigarette, but she said no. So then he asked her to step outside the car, which he can do during a traffic stop. She refused and things went downhill from there. It was a simple request that led to a huge episode.

    This is a symptom of the larger problems with out society. And with all of the federal grants to police agencies in cash strapped states and small towns.

  16. Steve Houston says:

    CL, so you agree with him that despite all the warning signs and legal responsibilities the jailers had, it was okay for them to be so criminally negligent and not follow their own policies? I wasn’t addressing the arrest, merely offering that the jailers should have done their job. Do you think the settlement was too high as well? Wow!

  17. Flypusher says:

    I share that wow. There are very good reasons that jails have these kinds of rules. These rules are there because of past incidents that cost lives and taxpayer $. Waller Co. has zero excuse here, and I have zero sympathy for anyone who fails to learn what they should from experience.

  18. Bill Daniels says:

    @C.L.

    After reading Steve’s link, I guess I have to stand corrected. Using a trash bag to hang yourself IS something that has been done before by Texas inmates. I guess that means that if there is ANY question about an inmate being suicidal, they should be issued a paper gown and no bedding, or anything else that could be fashioned into a noose to hang themselves with.

    Actually, I like this idea, as the idea of jail is to be an unpleasant place where you don’t want to end up in.

  19. Bill Daniels says:

    @C.L.

    After reading Steve’s link, I guess I have to stand corrected. Using a trash bag to hang yourself IS something that has been done before by Texas inmates. I guess that means that if there is ANY question about an inmate being suicidal, they should be issued a paper gown and no bedding, or anything else that could be fashioned into a noose to hang themselves with.

    Actually, I like this idea, as the idea of jail is to be an unpleasant place where you don’t want to end up in.

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