It’s been three years since Sandra Bland died in police custody in Waller County, Texas and her family still has a long list of unanswered questions.
In July 0f 2015, Sandra Bland was a vivacious 28-year-old looking forward to starting a new job at her alma mater, Prairie View A & M University. She moved back to Texas from her native Chicago to begin a new chapter in her life and she was excited. Bland happily talked to friends and family about her latest adventure and she was building a following online with her #SandySpeaks videos that offered uplifting advice to her fellow Black “kings and queens.”
Life was good and then life abruptly ended.
As Bland made her way to the grocery store on July 10, 2015, she was pulled over by officer Brian Encinia allegedly for not using a turn signal. The interaction, which was captured by Encinia’s dashcam, shows how the interaction escalating after Encinia demands that Bland put out the cigarette she was smoking as she sat in the driver’s seat. Encinia is seen yanking Bland out of the car and yelling that he would “light her up.”
A simple traffic stop somehow turned into Encinia slamming Bland to the ground, digging his knee into her back and hauling her to jail for “assaulting an officer.” Bland called her family after she was booked and was assured by her sister that the family would pull together the $500 needed to get her out on her $5,000 bail. When the family called three days later with the bond money, they were informed that Bland was dead.
According to Waller County, she was found hanging from a plastic trash bag. Her death was ruled a suicide. Her family mourned and the nation erupted. #SayHerName became a viral hashtag, vigils popped up all over the country and everyone had questions.
Encinia was fired and indicted for perjury for lying about why he had Bland get out of the car in the first place. In 2017, all charges against him were dropped. No one else has ever been indicted for any of the activities surrounding Bland’s death even though the county admits that the jail house log was forged. The officer responsible for checking each cell every hour did not do his job and forged the log in advance.
Bland’s family received a $1.9 million settlement and Texas now has the Sandra Bland Act—a law that increases accountability and spells out procedures for how county jails handle inmates with mental health issues.
Three years later and many questions still linger. HBO’s upcoming documentary, Say Her Name: The Life and Death of Sandra Bland, reveals more details about the circumstances surrounding Bland’s death. The compelling film features interviews with Bland’s family and friends, the controversial Waller County sheriff, the county prosecutor, and other people who are key to the situation.
The Sisters Speak Out
Two of Bland ’s sisters, Sharon Cooper and Shante Needham, stopped by theGrio to talk with senior editor Demetria Irwin.
One question that constantly surfaces in conversations about Sandra Bland is whether she actually committed suicide or if someone killed her and staged it to look like a suicide. In the documentary, Bland’s mother states unequivocally that she does not believe her daughter committed suicide.
When theGrio Bland’s sister Sharon Cooper was asked if she thought Bland committed suicide, she had a sobering response. “What’s unfortunate is that we will never know. I learned so much about how you clarify a death and all the information that goes into that. There was never the appropriate testing done to determine the actual timeframe that she died within. That is so problematic. We use July 13 because that is the day we were notified, but we will never know when she passed away because that forensic information was never collected by their medical examiners,” she said. “We’ll never know not just when she died, but what transpired in that three-day period. What’s infuriating about the entire situation is that she never should have been there. There was this instant cause and effect between what happened in the field and what led to her being placed into custody erroneously.”
With Encinia free and no one else with any charges, Bland’s sister Shante Needham expressed what she would like to see happen in terms of legal repercussions. “I really wish there was a way that all of them involved could be held accountable and when I say held accountable, I mean go to jail, lose their jobs, lose their pensions, lose everything like we did. We lost what is most important to us. Now we have to deal with this hole in our hearts. Holidays will never be the same, milestones will never be the same. Someone needs to go to jail,” said Needham.
Watch the interview for more from the sisters, including why they agreed to the documentary, their opinion of the Sandra Bland Act, and how they keep their sister’s legacy alive.