Death of woman in jail cell prompts Texas House committee meeting

Reuters News
Posted: Jul 29, 2015 10:50 AM

By Jon Herskovitz

AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) - A Texas House of Representative committee plans to meet on Thursday to look into conditions that led to the death of Sandra Bland, a black motorist whose apparent suicide in jail has raised questions about what role race played in her treatment.

Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw and a county sheriff who has been a critic of inadequate jail facilities were expected to testify at the Texas House Committee of County Affairs hearing.

"This isn't to beat up on somebody," state Representative and committee chairman Garnet Coleman was quoted as saying by broadcaster KHOU. "We want to solve problems."

The committee will look at jail standards, procedures for managing potentially mentally ill people and interactions between the public and law enforcement, it said on its website.

Bland was found hanged in her cell three days after her July 10 arrest for a minor traffic offense in Waller County, about 50 miles northwest of Houston, an incident activists say is another example of police brutality toward minorities.

The Texas Department of Public Safety, its Texas Rangers division and the Federal Bureau of Investigation are looking into the case.

On Tuesday, Waller County released videos of Bland arriving and being processed at the county jail, with officials saying they wanted to dispel rumors circulating on social media that she was already dead by the time records show she was booked.

Bland was pulled over by white Texas state trooper Brian Encinia near Prairie View for failing to signal a lane change. The stop escalated into a verbal altercation after Encinia asked Bland to put out a cigarette and she refused. Bland was arrested and charged with assaulting an officer, a felony.

Bland was found hanging in her jail cell on the morning of July 13, with a plastic trash bag around her neck.

(Reporting by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Bill Trott)