Jailers: Texas woman discussed past suicide attempt during booking
DALLAS — A woman whose death in a Texas jail has raised suspicions about the official conclusion that she hanged herself told a guard during the booking process that she had tried to kill herself in the past, the sheriff said Wednesday.
Waller County Sheriff Glenn Smith said that Sandra Bland told a jailer July 10 about a previous suicide attempt, while being asked a series of questions posed to each person booked into the jail. He did not provide further details about the conversation.
Asked about Smith's assertion, the attorney representing Bland's family, Cannon Lambert, said relatives have “no evidence” that she ever attempted suicide or had been treated for depression.
It was not immediately clear why the department hadn't disclosed details of conversations with Bland before, or whether they were shared with other jail staff. It also wasn't clear whether Bland was on suicide watch or otherwise specially monitored during her weekend incarceration.
A second jailer interviewed Bland, according to the sheriff. The 28-year-old black woman from Illinois said she was not depressed but was upset about her arrest, which occurred during a confrontation with a white officer who had stopped her for a minor traffic violation.
Smith says both jailers who spoke with Bland insisted that she appeared fine when being booked on a charge of assaulting a public servant.
Bland's body was found three days later in her cell. Authorities say she hanged herself using a plastic liner taken from a garbage can.
Her death occurs after nearly a year of heightened national scrutiny of police and their dealings with black suspects, especially those who have been killed by officers or die in police custody.
Smith said Wednesday that no one gained access to the cell and contributed to Bland's death.
“My obligation is to run this jail and keep everyone safe,” he said.
A Texas district attorney said he has opened a criminal investigation into the arrest of Bland. Waller County District Attorney Elton Mathis said he is investigating whether the trooper violated any criminal laws. “I didn't like what I saw when I saw the video of the trooper's actions, but I'll reserve judgment,” Mathis said.