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Texas grand jury issues no indictments in jailhouse death of Sandra Bland

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A grand jury will not indict anyone in connection with the death of Sandra Bland, who was found hanged in a Texas jail cell in July.

Five months after her death drew national protests, one of the special prosecutors for the case, Darrell Jordan, told The Washington Post that the grand jury decided not to indict anyone, including staff at the Waller County Jail where Bland was held, in connection with her death.

The grand jury will reconvene in early January to “take up remaining issues,” Jordan said. He declined to comment on what those issues might be, because grand jury proceedings are secret. He also did not comment on what evidence led to Monday night’s outcome.

Bland, who is black, was arrested during a traffic stop on July 10 that turned confrontational. Police video released amid national attention after her death showed Bland refusing to get out of her car until state trooper Brian Encinia pointed a stun gun at her and shouted, “I will light you up!”

Newly released police video shows a Texas trooper threatening Sandra Bland with a Taser when he ordered her out of her vehicle during a routine traffic stop on July 10, three days before she was found dead in a county jail. (Editor's note: This video contains graphic language and has been edited for length.) (Video: Texas Department of Public Safety)

Officials said that Bland kicked Encinia, and she was arrested for assaulting a public servant. She was found dead three days later, hanging from a cell partition with a plastic garbage bag around her neck.

Bland’s death was ruled a suicide by the county coroner, but family members and protesters around the country disputed that conclusion, alleging that she should not have been arrested and was the victim of racism. Her name joined others — Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Freddie Gray — as a byword of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Bland’s family has remained vocally suspicious of the coroner’s ruling of suicide, and in August family members filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the Waller County Sheriff’s Office, jail officials and the Texas Department of Public Safety. Attorneys for Waller County have sought to have the lawsuit dismissed, saying that Bland killed herself out of despair that her relatives did not quickly bail her out.

Last week, a Texas judge set Jan. 23, 2017, as the trial date for Bland’s family’s wrongful death suit.

The announcement of the grand jury’s decision came just hours after Bland’s family criticized the handling of her case, which they said was not being thoroughly investigated by the Texas Rangers or properly presented by special prosecutors.

“Right now the biggest problem I have is the entire process,” Bland’s mother, Geneva Reed-Veal, said at a news conference Monday, according to the Chicago Tribune. “It’s the secrecy of it all.”

Speaking to the Houston Chronicle after the news that there would be no indictments in Bland’s death, Cannon Lambert, an attorney for her relatives, called the grand jury investigation “a sham of a proceeding.”

“It’s exactly the type of thing we had a concern about, the fact that they were going to do exactly what they did,” he said, adding that the family had not been kept apprised of the investigation.

Within a few hours of the announcement, #SandraBland was trending on social media, where many of the activists who made her name nationally known criticized the grand jury’s decision.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), a Democratic presidential candidate, also tweeted a statement on the decision.

“Sandra Bland should not have died while in police custody. There’s no doubt in my mind that she, like too many African-Americans who die in police custody, would be alive today if she were a white woman,” it read. “My thoughts are with her family and her loved ones tonight. We need to reform a very broken criminal justice system.”

No other candidate had weighed in on the grand jury’s decision as of early Tuesday.

In an interview with the New York Times, Jordan stressed that this decision does not signal the end of the investigation into Bland’s case.

“It’s all in the way you phrase it,” he said. “The case is not over. That’s what I’m stressing right now. The case is not over.”