The New York Times reported on Wednesday the results of the initial toxicology report for former Chicago resident and Texas A&M employee, Sandra Bland, 28, who was found dead on 13 July, in the detention facility under the purview of the Waller County Sherrif’s Office, located in Hempstead, Texas. This was subsequent to her arrest three days earlier, charged with assaulting a public servant. It is believed from all evidence thus far that Ms. Bland died at her own hand, through asphyxiation.
This first toxicology report now raises additional questions, because the results were very unusual. The test indicated that there were 18 micrograms per liter of tetra-hydro-cannabinol, the main constituent in the variety of the marijuana plants that are consumed for their psychoactive effect.
What was unusual in this particular result, was the excessive level of the substance, which has now led to speculation that either a large quantity of cannabis may have been ingested prior to Ms. Bland’s arrest; or that there may have been some sort of access to the substance during the three days she had been incarcerated.
It is clear from the video recording from the motion-activated cameras outside Ms. Bland’s cell in the facility, that no one had entered the space she occupied, or any other material evidence to have suggested foul play.
Unable to reach family or friends for several days, in order to obtain the $500 bail that was set, Ms. Bland was very disappointed that her friends thus far had been unable or unwilling to assist her, in raising these funds. Authorities in the facility confirmed that she had been allowed access to a telephone outside the bars, when she had trouble with a pin number when using the usual telephone privilege through the phone system located within the cell itself.
Officer Brian Encinia — the State Trooper for the Texas Department of Public Safety who made the traffic stop – had initially written a warning to Ms. Bland, which had not yet been issued officially, due to Ms. Bland’s having been notably uncooperative.
Sandra Bland had arrived in Texas just the day before, in order to take a new job at Prairie View A&M University, located 47 miles northeast of Houston.
In the dashcam recording, and in the transcripts of this interaction that various news media have produced independently, one can observe that the Trooper believed there was something amiss very early on – within the first nine seconds of the interaction:
“We’re the Texas Highway Patrol and the reason for your stop is because you failed to signal the lane change. Do you have your driver’s license and registration with you? (pause)
Later in the transcript of the interaction on the recording, we learn that Ms. Bland did not look at the Officer while he was speaking to her. Evidently, at one point, she believed that she had already given him her driver’s license; but the Officer asks:
“Do you have a driver’s license?”
On the video, her response is inaudible, but his response then, is:
Evidently, Ms. Bland then does provide her license, because the Trooper says “OK. Where are you headed to now? Her response is inaudible.
He then says:
“Give me a few minutes, alright?”
When Officer Encinia returns to her vehicle, he says
“OK, Ma’am,” and there is another pause.
Again he asks:
“Are you OK?”
Presumably, he asks this because — as we learn later from his summary of the events to a DPS colleague — Ms. Bland will not look at him while he is speaking to her, which he evidently finds to be out of the ordinary; yet he refrains from confrontation at that stage, in speaking.of this diretly.
The responsibilities of a law-enforcement officer are wide-ranging — especially in their alternating roles as athletes, critical thinkers, strategists, experts in marksmanship (or whatever the gender-neutral term may be), as well as kindly, social services-savvy protectors of children and any others who may be at risk of negligence or abuse (who are unable to defend themselves). They must also be anger-management experts, as well as being patient psychological counsellors. They must be prepared to fend off spontaneous attacks by all forms of implements, including automatic weapons, at any point in time, to protect the lives of any member of the public or to protect themselves and return home safely at the end of the day.
In general – especially given the high-stakes danger – it’s not surprising that folks who tend to follow this vocation have found it to be both challenging and meaningful. Like teachers, firefighters, and other first-responders, these individuals are no strangers to an attitude of self=sacrifice and personal discipline. They are – with some sad exceptions — very exceptional folks who are worthy of our appreciation and respect.
The American Civil Liberties Union — which was created nearly a century ago, in 1920 –, was founded in order to protect and defend the rights and liberties of individuals in the United States that have been secured with the lives and sacred honor of those who believed they had a sacred trust in future generations to continue to guarantee the exercise of Constitutional rights — and the straightforward responsibilities that correspond to those rights — in order to guarantee that they will continue to remain secure.
The ACLU has provides at their website and on their printed materials, some universal advice – to anyone of any color or gender – who will have been stopped by the police, or by immigration agents, or the FBI, or any other duly authorized law enforcement officer.
Above all, do the following:
“Do stay calm and be polite
Do not interfere with or obstruct the police”
On the video recording from the dashcam, Officer Encinia describes the nature of the assault which he believed to have been justification for Ms. Bland’s arrest, as he explains to another DPS colleague that Ms. Bland had kicked him, which led to his having made the decision to have taken her into custody as safely as possible, to be further detained. — and where she was later classified as having had the need to be housed alone — since she had demonstrated behavior indicating a possible risk of harm to others.
Although it could be heard on the tape that Emergency Medical Services had been requested, it is not clear from that video recording what that outcome may have been. It is possible to hear, however, that Ms. Bland mentions that she had epilepsy; and that on this recording she also claims to have sustained injuries to her wrist, believing that her arm had been broken. She also notes on the tape that as the Officer took her to the ground to subdue her, she had experienced the placement of his knee against her back to have been painful,
Officer Encinia attempts to show Ms. Bland the official “Warning” document that he had written at the outset, rather than a “summons;” although it appears on the document that he had been unable to issue formally because she was unable or unwilling to demonstrate an attitude of cooperation, to be reasonable and to “remain calm.”
Officer Encinia’s statements on the video indicate that Ms. Bland appeared to have crossed the line of non-cooperation into the territory of obstruction of justice, once she had assaulted the Officer physically.
On the video Ms. Bland quickly mentions various physical maladies, and alleges a specific complaint relating to her head’s having been hurt at some point. Only some of this interaction was recorded by the dashcam on Officer Encinia’s vehicle, since it took place on the grass surface for safety; yet the female Officer who responded to the call for back-up, does seem to confirm that she witnessed the actions that took place in the grassy area; and perhaps there is an inference that the dashcam on her own vehicle had captured this activity on the grassy area.
Officer Encinia states in the official call to headquarters that he took care to move Ms. Bland to the grass surface and away from the pavement, once he recognized that it would be best to bring her into custody, since she had continued to behave irrationally for several minutes, despite his oft-repeated requests — escalating to demands as a lawful order — that she cooperate, try to calm down, and to comply with his directives and listen to reason especially once her excitability had moved to a demonstration of a more physical nature, at or near the point of being out of her own ability to control herself, posing prospective harm to herself. or to others, including the Officers.
The individual’s rights in a situation where one believes to be wrongly accused, do include someone’s having the right to remain silent, although the ACLU website suggests that one would be wise to specifically make clear that he or she claims that Constitutional right.
It is not clear whether a court of law would acknowledge whether Ms. Bland had made a specific effort to do so; although when she first begins to assert what she believes her rights to be — or to seem to her to be — at issue from the outset, in this situation. It does seem clear that Trooper Encinia does not recognize such an assertion, if made. It is probably unlikely that an average person would either make a claim to this particular right — at least until he or she were to be arrested, where it is far more common knowledge that an individual’s “Miranda Rights” would kick-in and most everyone understands this as the right to remain silent.
In the Martese Johnson case, for example, the Commonwealth elected not to pursue the two misdemeanor charges against him — obstruction of justice without force and swearing or public intoxication — and neither were there any criminal charges filed against the ABC agents involved in the arrest. These officers remain on “estricted administrative duty,” pending the outcome of the full review of of the second independent Virginia State Police criminal investigation Report, which was submitted to the Office of Public Safety and Homeland Security, and presumably, also responsible for oversight of the ABC expert panel..
Evidently the majority of bystanders who were interviewed who were present that night had observed that the Agent-officer who was holding Mr. Johnson had tripped on the brick sidewalk, and both he and Mr. Johnson had fallen together, and perhaps one of the other Officers as well, and it was this accident that resulted in Mr. Johnson’s injury.
In a piece that appeared in Time magazine onlinc this time last week, as to what rights are protected as individuals under the U.S. Constitution in a society based upon the Rule of Law, there are corresponding responsibilities that one would do well to take note of:
“As difficult as it can be, try to remain calm and be as polite as you can. Even if your rights have been violated, you’re not going to argue your way out of the problem. It’s also always a good idea to make sure the police can see your hands, and that you don’t make sudden movements, interfere with what the police are trying to do, or give false statements.”