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Woman who died in jail mentioned previous suicide try

David Warren
Associated Press

Hempstead, Texas — A woman whose death in a Texas jail has raised suspicions about the official conclusion that she hanged herself told a guard during the booking process that she had tried to kill herself in the past, the sheriff said Wednesday.

Waller County Sheriff Glenn Smith told the Associated Press during a telephone interview that Sandra Bland told a jailer July 10 about a previous suicide attempt, while being asked a series of questions posed to each person booked into the jail. He did not provide further details about the conversation.

Asked about Smith’s assertion, the attorney representing Bland’s family, Cannon Lambert, said relatives have “no evidence” that she ever attempted suicide or had been treated for depression.

It was not immediately clear why the department hadn’t previously disclosed details of conversations with Bland, or whether they were shared with other jail staff. It also wasn’t clear whether Bland was on suicide watch or otherwise specially monitored during her weekend incarceration.

A second jailer also interviewed Bland, according to the sheriff. The 28-year-old black woman from Illinois said she was not depressed but was upset about her arrest, which occurred following a confrontation with a white officer who had stopped her for a minor traffic violation.

Smith says both jailers who spoke with Bland insisted that she appeared fine when being booked on a charge of assaulting a public servant.

Bland’s body was found three days later in her cell. Authorities say she hanged herself using a plastic liner from a garbage can.

Bland’s family has said she was not despondent and was looking forward to starting a new job at her alma mater, Prairie View A&M University. Lambert said Wednesday that Bland had just bought groceries and was ecstatic about her new job when she was pulled over.

However, Bland posted a video to her Facebook page in March, saying she was suffering from “a little bit of depression as well as PTSD,” or post-traumatic stress disorder. At least one friend has said she was just venting after a bad day.

The sheriff discussed Bland’s booking process as her family held a news conference in suburban Chicago to discuss the release of video of her arrest taken from the officer’s dashcam, which shows him drawing a stun gun and threatening Bland when she refuses to follow his orders.

A new, apparently glitch-free version of the dashcam video showing the confrontation was released Wednesday after questions arose about whether the first version had been altered.

The dashcam video in Officer Brian T. Encinia's car, originally released Tuesday, showed an angry, escalating confrontation after the officer initially pulled Bland over for failing to signal a lane change.

By the time it was over, Bland was roughly removed from her car, handcuffed on the ground and arrested on suspicion of assaulting a public servant.

Los Angeles Times contributed.