When a young woman named Sandra Bland was found dead in a jail cell in July, the country’s attention turned to the Texas county where she was imprisoned and the small city, Prairie View, where she was arrested during a routine traffic stop three days before officials say she committed suicide.
Now, in the same city where Bland was stopped, an African American council member was Tasered by cops just outside his home.
Body-camera footage from two of the officers involved released Sunday shows the council member, 26-year-old Jonathan Miller, talking with police on Thursday night. Several of his fraternity brothers had just left his house to practice a step routine ahead of homecoming, according to local TV station KHOU, when officers stopped them to question them about drug activity.
When Miller came out to find out what was going on, he was told to back away: “Go over here before you go to jail for interfering,” an officer says in the video. Miller takes a few steps back, but the officer repeats that he needs to back up further. Finally, the officer goes up to him and tells him to turn around.
What happened next is unclear from the body-camera video — the officer’s camera fell off during the confrontation.
But a cellphone video shot by one of Miller’s friends and published by local TV station KTRK shows Miller on his knees as two officers try to pull his hands behind his back. Miller kept his arms clamped at his sides. One officer, a woman, appears to be African American. The other, a man, appears to be white.
“Okay, he’s gonna have to Tase you. You’re not doing like you’re supposed to,” the female officer says.
Then the male officer points a stun gun toward him. There’s a click, and Miller falls forward with a yell of pain. “I live here, man. I live here,” he said after being stunned.
Miller spent one night in jail and was charged with interfering with public duties and resisting arrest, according to a press release from the Prairie View Police Department.
“In that situation, officers were conducting an investigation,” Police Chief Larry Johnson told CBS. “They asked him, ‘Can you step away from the scene?’ and allow them to finish what they were doing out of safety for all concerned.”
Johnson added that a female officer involved in Miller’s arrest was the same one who brought Bland to the Waller County jail when she was arrested in July. But that was just a coincidence, he told NBC.
“We have six police officers. The probability of having the same officer involved in multiple types of incidences is probable,” he said. “I haven’t seen anything that gave me any cause for concern as far as this officer’s conduct at this point.”
Johnson is African American, as is Prairie View’s mayor. The city of about 5,500 is 88 percent black, according to 2010 Census data.
According to KHOU, Prairie View police are investigating whether the officers in Miller’s case did anything wrong. The officers involved are not on leave, since they did not use deadly force.
But Miller and witnesses said they didn’t think the use of force was warranted.
“Usually I would think if you’re Tasing somebody, it’s somebody that’s running from the cops, somebody that’s trying to inflict harm on somebody, not somebody that’s on their knees with their arms by their sides,” Miller’s friend Brandon Wilson, who shot the cellphone video, told KHOU.
“I feel like I was checking on my line brothers and I feel like it escalated to a situation where I was Tased and it shouldn’t have come that far,” Miller told CBS after being released from jail.
Those words are reminiscent of a voice mail Bland reportedly left for her friend while in jail.
“I’m still just at a loss for words, honestly, about this whole process. How switching lanes with no signal turned into all of this, I don’t even know,” she said, according to KTRK.
Bland was moving to town to start a new job at Prairie View A&M University, a historically black university that is both her and Miller’s alma mater.
Bland’s death was classified as suicide by hanging, Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences spokeswoman Tricia Bentley told The Post in July. Bland’s family has called for an independent autopsy and filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the Waller County Sheriff’s Office.
The details of her arrest and death made national headlines and dredged up uncomfortable stories from Waller County’s not-so-distant past, which includes more lynchings than all but two other Texas counties, according to the Equal Justice Initiative.
Miller’s arrest caught the attention of many who had been angered by Bland’s death in custody this summer.
Miller, who has been released on bond, according to ABC, is a 2015 graduate for Prairie A&M. According to his city council profile, he led voter registration drives while on campus. Now his district includes both locals and Prairie View A & M students.