Friday, July 24, 2015
Sandra Bland autopsy: No signs of violent struggle
Editor's note: This story has been updated throughout.
Initial findings of Sandra Bland's autopsy report did not show signs of a violent struggle, Waller County officials said Thursday.
The autopsy report, which was described by a Waller County prosecutor who has reviewed it, also said Bland had a “substantial” amount of marijuana in her system when she died, according to preliminary toxicology results.
The prosecutor, Warren Diepraam, said he expects the autopsy report will be made public Friday.
Bland was found hanged to death in her cell at the Waller County jail three days after she was arrested in connection with assaulting a public servant during a July 10 altercation with Brian Encinia, a Texas Department of Public Safety trooper. Her death has sparked outrage in Texas, the nation and worldwide for what many see as the latest case of white police harassment of a black citizen.
Her death was ruled a suicide by the Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences, Diepraam said.
“The evidence that we have reviewed up until this point supports those findings,” Diepraam said. “However, this is an ongoing investigation.”
The probe into Bland's death is being conducted with the rigor and breadth of a murder investigation, Elton Mathis, Waller County's district attorney, said Monday at a news conference. The investigation will include forensic DNA and fingerprint testing of the plastic bag Bland appears to have used to hang herself, Mathis said.
The autopsy report indicates the ligature mark on Bland’s neck was “uniform,” Diepraam said, and therefore not consistent with what one would expect to find after a violent struggle.
The autopsy found no injuries to Bland’s hands, internal neck structures, eyelids or mouth. Such injuries are usually present when a person has been in a violent struggle, but the lack of such injuries does not prove a violent struggle did not occur, Diepraam said.
Bland did have lacerations on her wrists consistent with “being handcuffed and struggling with the handcuff process,” Diepraam said.
Bland was handcuffed following the July 10 altercation after Encinia pulled her over for failing to signal when changing lanes outside Prairie View A&M University, where she was scheduled to start a new job.
DPS released the dashboard camera video of the stop Tuesday, which showed Encinia losing his temper after Bland refused to put out a cigarette and exit her vehicle. Encinia threatened to stun Bland with his Taser and ultimately arrested her. Throughout the exchange, Bland became increasingly agitated, at times yelling and swearing at Encinia.
Although Bland and Encinia are off camera as he handcuffs her, she can be heard shrieking and crying: “You’re about to break my wrist, can you stop?”
Encinia has been put on administrative duty in Houston, reassigned after his superiors viewed the patrol car video.
The autopsy also shows roughly 30 cuts on Bland’s left forearm, which were in the process of healing and were likely sustained two to four months prior to her death, Diepraam said. The cuts could have been self-inflicted, he said.
Bland also had scabs on her back from superficial scrapes that Diepraam said could be consistent with someone having their knee on her back. Footage taken by a bystander of Bland’s arrest shows Encinia with his knee on Bland’s back when she was on the ground, handcuffed.
The amount of marijuana in Bland’s system found in the preliminary toxicology report is “indicative of a large amount of marijuana being smoked” prior to her arrest, Diepraam said.
Thursday evening in Austin, nearly 300 people gathered for a vigil and march in honor of Bland. Starting at the Valley Grill, a historic music venue, participants marched one mile to the Capitol in silence, cutting across Interstate 35 and up Sixth Street as about a dozen police officers cleared traffic ahead of the crowd.
"We are getting justice for Sandy Bland and everyone else," Fatima Mann, a vigil leader, told the crowd.
Marchers carried signs featuring images of Bland and quotes from her Facebook videos, including "Black lives matter, they really do."
Terri Langford and Liz Crampton contributed to this report.
This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune.