Sandra Bland previously attempted suicide after the loss of a baby and was feeling “very depressed” on the day of her arrest, according to a handwritten jail intake screening form Texas officials released Wednesday.
Bland — a 28-year-old African American woman — died in a Waller County jail three days after a Texas trooper pulled her over on July 10 during a routine traffic stop. Officials classified her death as suicide by hanging, but those who knew the Illinois woman treated that classification with skepticism and as “unfathomable.”
The handwritten suicide screening form Waller County Sheriff’s Office released Wednesday indicated Bland’s previous suicide attempt in 2015 with pills and her state of depression. The handwritten form was completed at 5:32 p.m.
In answer to the question about depression “Are you feeling this way now?” Bland answered: “Yes.”
Asked whether she was considering suicide on the day of her arrest, Bland answered: “No.”
The handwritten suicide screening form stated she was on an unspecified medication. The district attorney’s office released a computerized document, which was completed at 8:15 p.m., showing Bland was taking Keppra, a medication for the treatment of epilepsy.
Some of the documents appeared to contain contradicting information. Bland marked on the handwritten, self-reported form that she had thoughts of killing herself in the last year and she was feeling very depressed on the day of her arrest. The computerized suicide assessment released by the district attorney’s office listed “no” to questions about whether she experienced suicidal thoughts in the past year and about her feelings of depression in the past and on the day of her arrest.
A lawyer for her family said at a news conference earlier Wednesday Bland was excited to move from Illinois to Texas to start her new job. “I can tell you that we take issue with the notion that she had depression,” attorney Cannon Lambert Sr. said. He added that her family wasn’t aware of her taking depression medication and was never clinically diagnosed, but like many people, she experienced “hills and valleys.”
The combination of self-reported answers on the suicide screening form should have triggered notification to the magistrate and local crisis center, according to recommended guidelines from the Texas Commission on Jail Standards.
The staffer who observed Bland during the suicide screening did not indicate that a magistrate was notified; that section was left blank.
An additional, “medical intake” form that was completed at 8:17 p.m. shows a discrepancy from the information included in Bland’s self-reported, hand written questionnaire.
It lists “no” to the question about “attempted suicide.”
Waller County Assistant District Attorney Warren Diepraam told The Washington Post in an e-mail that “the discrepancy arises because she made conflicting statements to the jail personnel. The responses are hers, therefore the contradictions were created by her.”
Diepraam added that Bland’s “later statement most likely played a role in the jail personnel’s decisions not to place her on suicide watch, but that is a question for the sheriff.”
A spokesman for the Waller County Sheriff’s Office did not immediately return a request for comment.
Filling out the intake form is standard procedure intended to screen for suicide and medical and mental impairments. If certain criteria are met, the inmate’s responses could trigger additional mental health evaluation or different placement within a jail to prevent them from harming themselves or others.
“That’s going to depend upon the local mental health authority and the resources that they have,” Brian Wood, executive director of the Texas Commission on Jail Standards told The Post.
On Wednesday, the commission released a report noting that Waller County jails had been noncompliant after an investigation prompted by Bland’s death.
The report noted that jail staff had not received the required two hours of annual training for the detention of inmates with mental health problem or who are suicidal. The jail also did not comply with rules requiring that workers observe inmates face to face every hour. Instead, jailers conducted those checks via an intercom.
According to Wood, during Waller County’s last inspection in September 2014, the jail had been found to be fully compliant.
Bland also noted that she hadn’t received services for mental health in the past and she recently experienced a loss, the death of her godmother in late 2014.
Bland’s death is being handled “just as it would be in a murder investigation,” Waller County District Attorney Elton Mathis said Monday; he later clarified that any suspicious death in police custody would be treated that way and the case will go to a grand jury.
Officer Brian Encinia pulled Bland over for failing to signal while changing lanes. Dashboard camera video captured the traffic stop, which escalated after the trooper asked her to put out her cigarette. She refused and at one point, he threatened her with a Taser and tried to physically remove her from her car.
Encinia wrote in his arrest warrant that Bland was”combative and uncooperative,” kicked him and was handcuffed “for officer safety.” Bland was charged with assault on a public servant. Encinia has been placed on administrative leave.
Bland’s sister, Sharon Cooper, said Wednesday that the arrest was “petty” and probably motivated by the fact that Bland was from out of town.
“She was pulled over for something so insignificant because an officer felt that maybe his ego was bruised,” Cooper said at a news conference. “Not once did he ever say he was threatened.”
This story, originally published on July 22, has been updated.