Sandra Bland: The Suicide That Can’t Be

At Fault Lines, Murray Newman explains how the death looks through the prosecutor’s eyes, and offers an optimistic expectation that this won’t disappear down the rabbit hole of excuses:

The law enforcement officials involved in the Waller County investigation, however, seem to be taking appropriate steps to address the death of Sandra Bland. As noted in  USA Today, the Texas Department of Public Safety has already conceded the trooper who arrested Bland “violated the department’s procedures regarding traffic stops and the department’s courtesy policy.” That statement is a strong rebuke considering it comes so early in the investigative process.

Additionally, the Waller County District Attorney, Elton Mathis acknowledged that there was nothing evident as to why Bland would have committed suicide:

I will admit it is strange someone who had everything going for her would have taken her own life. That’s why it’s very important a thorough investigation is done and that we get a good picture of what Ms. Bland was going through the last four or five days of her life.

Since this was written, the Texas Tribune has reported that Sandra Bland’s death will be treated as a murder, even though it was initially ruled a suicide by the coroner.

While the Harris County medical examiner ruled her death consistent with a suicide, Mathis said it is now being treated as a murder.

“There are too many questions that need to be resolved. Ms. Bland’s family does make valid points. She did have a lot of things going on in her life for good,” Mathis said.

Or to put the obvious in English, there was no reason in the world why Sandra Bland would kill herself over being arrested for a traffic stop, and a bad one at that.  She was on her way to a new job at her alma mater. People who want to kill themselves don’t drive to their new jobs at their alma maters.

But before we put Walther County District Attorney, Elton Mathis, on a pedestal for doing his job where many others wouldn’t, consider this:

The district attorney also said the dashboard video of the traffic stop in Prairie View that was retrieved from Encinia’s patrol car would be released on Tuesday.
After viewing the video, Mathis said Bland was not “compliant” with the officer’s directions.

“Sandra Bland was very combative. It was not a model traffic stop. It was not a model person that was stopped,” Mathis said.

Yeah, through the eyes of a prosecutor, compliance is what makes someone a “model person.”  Murray explained that too.

The final factor that makes prosecutors uncomfortable about having to investigate a police-involved fatality is the fact that they generally have an underlying belief, regardless of facts and circumstances, that the victim did something to initiate the confrontation.

And Mathis, true to form, goes right for it.

As Bland is escorted by the officers to a patrol car, she thanks the person filming and is heard saying: “For a traffic signal, threw me onto the ground and everything.”

Because she wasn’t a model-y enough person for Mathis. Oh, how it would make things easier if people were just so much more compliant before they ended up dead in a cell.

This is yet another litmus test death, where some will lay blame for whatever happened following Bland’s inadequate compliance and combative behavior ameliorates everything that comes afterward.  Separating issues is hard for some people.

But the video of the traffic stop isn’t material to the death in a jail cell.  Put aside the fact that ordinary people, good people, aren’t thrilled at the prospect of being treated like scum, physically assaulted, because police officers need to establish their command presence by forcing them to eat asphalt.  Even if Bland was the poster boy for non-compliance, it fails to explain why she died in custody.

It fails to explain why she died hanging in her cell.

If Bland’s solitary cell had a video camera, maybe we would be able to see for certainty who did what. Maybe we would even see why they did it. But without that, Matthis has a problem.  If this was a death by anyone other than a cop, it could prove to be a difficult circumstantial case.

But if Sandra Bland didn’t commit suicide, which every factor suggests other than the end result, the circumstantial case becomes nearly insurmountable.

Any time law enforcement involvement leads to the death of a citizen, whether it be an “in custody” suicide or a police officer involved shooting, there is a type of role reversal for the local District Attorney’s Office. While defense attorneys are quite familiar with the role of standing beside an accused in the face of negative public opinion, it is an uncomfortable scenario for a prosecutor.

This is a very uncomfortable scenario for Mathis. It has to be, for all the reasons Murray cites.  But if Sandra Bland didn’t kill herself, then one of his pals offed her.  Those are the only choices.  And Sandra Bland had no reason to kill herself, even if she was combative as hell during the traffic stop.

Waller County has a nasty, ugly racist history, but most of it flew under the radar because nobody was watching. This time, everybody is watching.  Nobody is feeling particularly concerned about Mathis being uncomfortable, as they’re a little more focused on Bland being dead.

15 thoughts on “Sandra Bland: The Suicide That Can’t Be

  1. lawrence kaplan

    Note that Bland was arrested on a Friday, and since she failed to make bail was still in jail on Monday when her death occurred. I wonder at what amount bail was set.

  2. Jeff Norman

    To say say there was no reason in the world Ms. Bland would kill herself ignores the fact she said she suffered from depression and PTSD. A PTSD episode could be triggered by anything that reminds a person of the trauma that haunts them. It seems that having one’s head slammed into the ground with such force that it causes a loss of hearing, could be such a trigger. Likewise, solitary confinement in a jail could push one over the edge. Ms. Bland’s psychological disorder might have been only self-diagnosed, and her self-diagnosis might have been flawed. Or it might have been accurate, and her condition might have been more severe than her family realizes. Is there a reason to completely ignore the possibility?

    1. SHG Post author

      This is the sort of baseless crap that becomes part of the myth of the case and the sort of excuse that the desperate and ignorant latch on to for lack of anything substantive. In the absence of any evidence that it’s real, it’s unworthy of any reasonably intelligent person taking it seriously or bothering to mention it.

      Should actual evidence come to light, that would change it. A five month old selfie video mentioning her depression and PTSD is meaningless. That’s why they all need trigger warnings, because they all have PTSD. Except they don’t.

      1. John Burgess

        If we’re going to enter the realm of possibilities — barring UFOs, demonic possession, etc. — we might as well consider that having her head bounced off the concrete during the stop jarred something loose. Does that exonerate anyone?

  3. Jake DiMare

    As the traffic stop tape is now released, though immaterial as it may be, I do wonder if the officer’s initial request that she extinguish her cigarette is a lawful order to which she was required to comply, since this was the moment that it went from a routine warning to a ‘resisting arrest’ scenario.

    1. SHG Post author

      I have to give you credit for having the temerity to come here, ask a question you know to be immaterial (not to mention, you likely know from my twits, to be a diversionary tactic for the stupid and people with very short attention spans), given my general demeanor toward stupid questions. I tip my hat to you, Jake. Brave soul.

      1. Jake DiMare

        That’s fair. I’ve been having some trouble articulating myself lately and I agree that my comment, in a contextual vacuum, could be interpreted as my looking to propagate the LEO’s excuse when I am actually looking for someone who understands these things better than me to confirm my hope that the cop was way out of line and will suffer some penalty.

        However, I also know better than to come looking for tummy rubs here…

        1. SHG Post author

          Despite my intransigence, 2359 has provided an excellent answer to your question. Sadly, he’s right, even though I wouldn’t have told you.

    2. 2359

      The officer feared for his safety. She’s lucky that he didn’t shoot her.

      There was a non-zero probability that she could have flicked the burning ember into his eye.

      A non-zero probability of harm to an officer seems to be enough to get a civilian justifiably shot these days.

      1. SHG Post author

        You are, of course, right, though I would phrase it as a non-zero possibility. But there is a reason why I choose not to encourage off-topic comments/questions, and it kinda pisses me off when someone comes into my house to do what I have already chosen not to do. N’est pas?

  4. John Barleycorn

    No update? The arrest dash cam video does in fact add light to her unlawful arrest, and she called him out every step along the way as he was going through his “contempt of cop” checklist.

    Pussy is the word she used for the arresting officer (whose name is unknown at this time). And a pussy he is.

    Rest In Peace: Sandra Bland

    1. SHG Post author

      The cop’s name is Brian Encina, and the first vid released was an “edited” (and I’m being nice, calling it that) version. They have now released what they claim is a clean version.

      But this is a diversion tactic. Everybody will obsess over the traffic stop, which would be a fine thing to argue about, except it has no bearing whatsoever on how Sandra Bland died. So all eyes have turned away from the death and focused instead on the trafe. There are a million bad stops. Big deal. I have no intention of diverting attention from the death to the crap. It’s not the stop that made this different, but the death. Focus on the death. Don’t let them win by diverting attention away from the death.

      1. John Barleycorn

        Spine of a bad stop is connected to the death bone,

        I am sure she was a model “prisoner”.

        You are correct. And for whatever it is worth far too many corrections officers make most state troopers look stoic guardians of patient tolerance even when the trooper in question is on the trail of trying to justify a sniff and look when it comes to contempt of their authority.

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