Medical examiners on Thursday ruled that the death of Sandra Bland was a suicide by hanging and said the autopsy uncovered no evidence of a violent struggle. Walter Country Assistant District Attorney Warren Diepraam announced the findings during a press conference. Diepraam said the autopsy found no defensive injuries on Bland’s hands — only abrasions on her wrist consistent with a struggle while she was being handcuffed. Warren Diepraam also said that the autopsy showed that Bland had ingested a large amount of marijuana, but that it was not clear how much or when.
The autopsy was conducted by the Harris County Medical Examiner’s office after the 28-year-old African American woman was found July 13 hanging by a trash bag. Bland was stopped by a Highway Patrol trooper for failing to signal a lane change. Diepraam, in a meeting with reporters, said the autopsy details, such as the state of Bland’s hands, eyes, mouth and neck, showed no indication that she had engaged in a violent struggle. The only injury to her neck or head was a “uniform and consistent” mark consistent with a suicide by hanging, not a violent strangling.
Bland’s encounter with State Trooper Brian Encinia on July 10 escalated in minutes from a traffic stop to a physical struggle. The trooper threatened to “light you up” with a Taser after Bland questioned why she was being told to put out her cigarette and get out of her car.
Jail intake forms filled out for Bland appear to show that she told jailers she tried to commit suicide last year, and that she had been “very depressed” in the past. But the answers on the forms are inconsistent. She also told officials that she suffered from epilepsy and was taking the drug Keppra to prevent seizures. Keppra side effects can include suicidal thoughts, depression and anxiety, and stopping a seizure medication without tapering off can cause seizures that will not stop, according to UCB Inc., a Brussels-based pharmaceutical company that manufactures the drug.
When asked about the decision to hold Bland on $5000 bond, Mathis said the court followed county standard for the charge of assault on a police officer, a third-degree felony. As for the merit of the charge, Mathis said the investigation was ongoing. “This is of course an ongoing investigation, as far as any criminal culpability on the behalf of the trooper we are treating that the same way we are with the jail death,” he said, adding that he would “reserve judgment.”
Bland’s family said Sandra has no history of depression, but in a video posted a few years ago said she struggled with depression and PTSD syndrome. The officer involved in the incident has been placed on desk duty for violating police procedures and the Texas Department of Public Safety’s courtesy policy.