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Texas custody death woman Sandra Bland 'told guard of previous suicide bid'

Published 23/07/2015

Jeanette Williams places a bouquet of roses at a memorial for Sandra Bland in Prairie View, Texas (AP)
Jeanette Williams places a bouquet of roses at a memorial for Sandra Bland in Prairie View, Texas (AP)

The woman whose death in a Texas jail raised suspicions about the official conclusion that she hanged herself told a guard that she had previously tried to kill herself, the sheriff said.

But lawyer Cannon Lambert representing the family of Sandra Bland said relatives had no evidence that she ever attempted suicide or had been treated for depression.

Sheriff Glenn Smith said two jailers interviewed the 28-year-old black woman from Illinois after her arrest.

He said she told the second interviewer that she was not depressed but was upset about her arrest, which occurred after a row with a white officer who stopped her for a minor traffic violation.

The sheriff said both jailers who spoke with Ms Bland insisted that she appeared fine when being booked on a charge of assaulting a public servant.

Documents filled out for Ms Bland indicate she had previously attempted suicide after losing a baby. But the booking papers also indicate she did not have suicidal thoughts at the time of her arrest and that neither the arresting officer nor anyone else at the jail believed she was at risk.

The documents also contain discrepancies.

One questionnaire says Ms Bland tried to kill herself this year in an attempt to kill herself after losing the baby. A separate form filled out by another jail employee says the suicide attempt occurred last year.

One form indicates Ms Bland had suicidal thoughts within the past year, another says that is not the case.

Ms Bland was arrested July 10 and was found dead three days later. A medical examiner has ruled her death suicide by hanging. Her family and friends dispute the finding. Texas Rangers and the FBI are investigating.

State Senator Royce West said the kind of information disclosed on Ms Bland's intake form should have prompted jail officials to place her on a suicide watch, meaning a face-to-face check on her welfare every 15 minutes instead of the hourly checks normally required.

Ms Bland's death comes 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.

It has resonated on social media, with posts questioning the official account and featuring the hashtags #JusticeForSandy and #WhatHappenedToSandyBland.

The sheriff said that no-one gained access to the cell and contributed to Ms Bland's death.

"My obligation is to run this jail and keep everyone safe," Mr Smith said.

Ms Bland's family has said she was not despondent and was looking forward to starting a new job at Prairie View A&M University.

The intake documents were released hours after her family held a news conference to discuss the release of a video of her arrest taken from the officer's dashcam.

It shows state trooper Brian Encinia drawing a stun gun and threatening Ms Bland when she refuses to follow his orders.

The roadside encounter swiftly escalated into a shouting confrontation, with the officer holding the weapon and warning Ms Bland "I will light you up," for not getting out of her vehicle.

In response to questions about gaps and overlaps in the originally posted video, authorities said the footage was not edited or manipulated.

Tom Vinger, a spokesman for the Department of Public Safety, said glitches occurred in the recording when it was first uploaded for public viewing, and the department uploaded it again.

The trooper has been placed on administrative leave.

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