Friday, July 24, 2015

A History of Racial Problems in the County Where Sandra Bland Died – Plus Autopsy News


Sandra Bland (source; photocredit: Facebook)

by Gaius Publius

While writing up a piece featuring a beautifully penned statement by Shaun King on Sandra Bland and "the talk" given by black parents to their sons (but not their daughters), I came across this, about the Waller County police department, in whose custody Bland was found dead, as well as the county in general.

From the Texas Tribune (my emphasis throughout):
For years, racial inequity has punctuated Waller County's political landscape, which has been fraught with everything from kickback schemes to allegations of voter suppression and police brutality. Hempstead, the county's seat, is located next to Prairie View, home to Prairie View A&M University, the historically black college. Both towns sit along U.S. 290, a main Houston-to-Austin artery.

In 2003, then-Waller County District Attorney Oliver Kitzman sparked outrage when he questioned whether Prairie View students could vote in local elections, a point challenged by Texas' attorney general's office. The following year, Kitzman, who is white, announced he was resigning from office. Earlier this year, Prairie View students celebrated their own polling station.

In 2007, the city of Hempstead's council members fired then-Police Chief Glenn Smith following allegations of brutality against young black men. Smith disputed the charge, saying he was removed because of small-town politics. In 2008, Smith successfully ran for sheriff and is the county's top lawman today. ...

Bland's death is eerily similar to that of James Harper Howell IV of Bandera in November 2012. Howell, a 29-year-old white man, was discovered at the Waller County Jail hanging from a bed sheet tied to a ceiling vent in one of the jail's common areas, the Houston Chronicle reported at the time.

Howell had been in custody for more than a week after he was arrested by a DPS trooper for assault on a public servant, evading arrest and detention with a vehicle, and felony possession of marijuana.

As is the case with Bland's death, the Texas Rangers, a division of DPS, were called in to investigate. The Texas Tribune asked for a copy of the Rangers' report on Howell's death, but it has not immediately been provided.
Did you notice what Howell was charged with? "[A]ssault on a public servant, evading arrest and detention with a vehicle, and felony possession of marijuana." That's all. Sandra Bland was arrested "on a charge of assaulting a public servant during the traffic stop." Does the assault charge sound familiar? Bland's "assault" was more or less one-sided and in the other direction — according to either version of the dashcam video, the cop assaulted her.

Bland was in jail three days before her death and Howell more than a week. That sounds like a lot of time for things to go wrong for the prisoners, if those jail cops were anything like Bland's arresting officer.

Will There Be an Independent Autopsy?

Obviously an independent autopsy is critical, since, I have to say, evidence from "authorities" has to be treated as suspect. After all, the arrest itself is incredibly suspect, to put it mildly.

Among the factors complicating the case: She tried to hire a bail bondsman shortly before her death and reports that the Texas Sheriff in the county she was arrested in was fired from a previous job over allegations of racism. Authorities are now examining fingerprints and running DNA tests on the plastic bag allegedly used in her hanging. Bland’s family has called for an independent autopsy and an investigation from the U.S. Justice Department, saying she had no reason to take her own life over the incident.
The "authorities" in the quote above are apparently the Texas Rangers, according to the Texas Tribune story linked above:
Multiple agencies, including the Texas Rangers and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, have announced investigations into Bland's death. Mathis said on Monday that the Texas Rangers are the primary investigators and that the FBI was supervising.
So the Rangers are taking the lead on this, with the FBI somewhere in the background. Interesting. The problem with the Rangers is this (last paragraph in the long quote above):
As is the case with Bland's death, the Texas Rangers, a division of DPS, were called in to investigate [Howell's 2012 death in jail]. The Texas Tribune asked for a copy of the Rangers' report on Howell's death, but it has not immediately been provided.
Sounds like Howell's determination of "death by suicide" had been upheld by the investigation, but the Rangers aren't releasing the paperwork, at least not yet. Maybe the FBI should be opening two murder investigations.

As I wrote elsewhere, this story could well blow up, and if it does, it will blow up badly.

Just In — Texas DA Told Bland Family that Sandra "Swallowed Or Smoked 'Large Quantity Of Marijuana' In Jail"

OK, this kind of seals it. First the story, then the reason this seals it. Huff Post:
Sandra Bland Swallowed Or Smoked 'Large Quantity Of Marijuana' In Jail: DA

Sandra Bland, the black woman found hanging dead in a Texas jail days after a traffic stop, smoked or possibly swallowed a large amount of marijuana while in custody, her family's attorney reported the district attorney as saying.

Waller County District Attorney Elton Mathis made the disclosure in a text message to attorney Cannon Lambert, who has called the state's autopsy on the Chicago-area woman defective, Lambert said.

"Looking at the autopsy results and toxicology, it appears she swallowed a large quantity of marijuana or smoked it in the jail," Mathis said in a text message to Lambert that the attorney provided to Reuters.

Reuters could not immediately verify the authenticity of the text. Repeated calls to Mathis' office were not returned. 
There aren't many options, not many ways to analyze this. If it's true (that her dead body was filled with marijuana), it's bad for the cops for being true. If it's false, it's bad for the cops for saying it's true. If she got the marijuana without the cops knowing, it's (a) not believable — an angry black woman in a white county jail gets dope? — and (b) their fault anyway if she did.

And the final option, of course, is the one that's frankly obvious. She may well have been murdered, and this is as bad, as ham-fisted a cover-up as you could imagine.

The story just blew up.


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