CHICAGO: A black woman who died in a Texas jail under suspicious circumstances was there only because she hurt the “ego” of an overzealous police officer, her family alleged Wednesday.
Sandra Bland, 28, was found hanged in her jail cell three days after being pulled over for failing to signal a lane change and getting into an argument with a state trooper.
Her family disputed the initial conclusion that Bland committed suicide, insisting she was happy about starting a new job and had no reason to kill herself.
A local prosecutor agreed her July 13 death was suspicious and has opened a murder investigation in order to answer their concerns.
The case has blown up as the United States grapples with heightened racial tensions in the wake of a series of high-profile incidents of African Americans being killed by police in disputed circumstances.
Bland’s sister said she was disgusted by a dash cam video released Tuesday which shows the officer get angry after Bland refuses to put out her cigarette, then pull out his taser and shout “I’m going to light you up” after she refused to get out of the car.
“I simply feel like the officer was picking on her. Point-blank, period. I personally think that it’s petty,” Sharon Cooper told reporters, adding that she thinks he got angry because “his ego was bruised.”
Asked if she believes Bland was pulled over because she was black, Cooper said: “I think he pulled her over because she was an out-of-state resident.”
The family’s lawyer also disputed claims that Bland had a history of depression and had told the Waller County sheriff’s department she had tried to kill herself in the past.
“Everybody has hills and valleys,” Cannon Lambert said, but “she was never clinically diagnosed” and was not taking prescription medication.
“Sandy was a social activist. Social activists don’t take their own life, particularly in jail. It just doesn’t make sense,” Lambert said.
The trooper, who is white, has been placed on administrative leave and an initial investigation found he violated the department’s “courtesy policy” and procedures regarding traffic stops.
The sheriff’s department released a video Monday which it says shows nobody entered or exited Bland’s cell before her body was discovered.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott offered his condolences to Bland’s family “for their tragic loss.”
“The family deserves answers,” he said in a statement Wednesday.
“The Texas Rangers, working in coordination with the FBI, will conduct a full and thorough investigation that will deliver those answers and work toward the ultimate goal of ensuring justice in this case.”
Bland was an activist in the Black Lives Matter movement, which grew out of protests sparked by the police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri and cases such as that of Freddie Gray, who sustained a fatal spinal injury in a Baltimore police van.
Her funeral will be held Saturday in suburban Chicago.