The findings in the hanging death autopsy report of Sandra Bland, a young black woman found dead in her Texas jail cell on July 13, suggest that she died of asphyxiation, an apparent suicide. In fact, the autopsy report backs what Waller County authorities have been saying all along. However, Bland’s family aren’t taking the word of officials involved in a case that has already garnered national attention for its seeming inconsistencies. They say the Sandra Bland autopsy report is “defective.”
Reuters reported July 23 that the Bland family issued a statement through their lawyer, Cannon Lambert, noting that the autopsy report was “defective.” Lambert wrote in an email, “The family’s confidence is shaken by the continued discrepancies that are surfacing.”
The statement was released prior to the official preliminary findings of Sandra Bland’s autopsy report being made public in a press conference. According to CNN, Warren Diepraam, Waller County prosecutor, told reporters that the cause of death was by hanging, and the manner of death was suicide, the findings consistent with the original medical examiner’s report issued the day after Bland was found in her jail cell.
According to the autopsy report, the body showed no signs of defensive wounds or a struggle. Scratches along her arms were labeled as self-inflicted. And bruises and marks on the 28-year-old woman’s body were not considered germane. There were lacerations on Bland’s wrists, but they were found to be consistent with handcuff markings. The plastic bag found wrapped around her neck had been tied off in a slip knot and the markings on her neck were “uniform,” which suggested also there was no struggle by the victim.
Sandra Bland was found dead in her Waller County jail cell on July 13, three days after she was arrested in Prairie View, Texas, pulled over for failure to signal a lane change. Not only has the arrest itself been called into question (the arresting officer, accused of breaking protocol, has since been assigned desk duty pending an investigation) but treatment of the victim during intake and incarceration has also been challenged.
After a dashcam video of the arrest was released this week, the incident ignited a national debate over police procedures and motorists, not to mention persons in custody, rights. The video appears to show an escalation from a minor traffic stop to a threat of tasering and a full takedown of Bland as she was arrested.
The Waller County Sheriff’s Office is facing harsh criticism for not placing Bland on suicide watch. Intake records indicate she told authorities she had attempted suicide in the past. However, a separate computer document (per CNN) notes that the answer of “no” alongside questions about mental illness and attempted suicide. Furthermore, a Texas Commission on Jail Standards report also noted that the Waller County Sheriff’s Office wasn’t meeting the minimum standards of cell checks (Bland had not been checked on for nearly two hours — the standard is one hour — when she was found dead), nor were officers meeting standards for the two hours (minimum) training to help in recognizing and dealing with suicide prevention. The Sheriff’s Office’s official position is that the officers on duty made the determination that she was not suicidal at the time of her incarceration and did not require suicide watch.
The Bland family, according to NBC News, has conducted its own independent autopsy. “There are concerns regarding the findings already, that we’ve communicated previously, so we are doing our own due diligence,” Lambert said. “We want to understand what happened, we want to know what happened and we want to know why.” Thus far, the results of that autopsy, which was scheduled for completion before the weekend, have not been made public.