Questions rage on social media over death of black woman in Texas jail

Reuters News
|
Posted: Jul 17, 2015 5:12 PM

(Reuters) - Protesters took to social media on Friday to question the official finding that a black woman's death at a Texas jail was suicide, with many posting instructions to friends and family how to respond if they die in police custody.

The death of Sandra Bland on July 13 in a Waller County jail northwest of Houston comes amid a national outcry over police violence toward minorities, sparked by high-profile killings of unarmed black men over the past year.

The Houston Chronicle newspaper reported that several dozen people gathered at the jail in protest on Friday, while others questioned her death on social media and left instructions to friends, family and the media should they die after an arrest.

"Please know I did not commit suicide. I would want to come home to my kids and husband and seek justice," Kia Morgan Smith said on Twitter under the hashtag #IfIDieInPoliceCustody.

Some also took issue with Sheriff Glenn Smith, who the Chronicle reported was fired as police chief of Hempstead, Texas, in 2008 after allegations arose of police misconduct toward African-Americans there.

The Chronicle reported that Smith described the criticism as politically motivated during a news conference on Thursday saying: "Black lives matter to Glenn Smith."

The newspaper said Bland, 28, had just moved to Texas for a new job with her alma mater, Prairie View A&M University, and her family is seeking answers about her death.

"There was no indication that she was in an emotional state that would have driven her toward harming herself," Bland family attorney Canon Lambert told reporters on Thursday.

The Texas Department of Public Safety said an officer pulled Bland over for failing to signal a lane change, she became "argumentative and uncooperative" and was arrested on July 10.

The Chronicle published a bystander video purporting to show Bland's arrest, in which a woman can be heard yelling that the officer slammed her head into the ground.

Bland was found on Monday in her cell not breathing due to "self-inflicted asphyxiation" and was pronounced dead, the Waller County Sheriff's Office said in a statement.

Waller County District Attorney Elton Mathis has said surveillance video outside Bland's cell did not appear to show anyone entering before her death. He said she used a trash bag to hang herself from a privacy partition in the ceiling.

The Texas Rangers are investigating the case and the FBI is assisting.

(Reporting by Curtis Skinner in San Francisco; Editing by Eric Beech)