The family of Sandra Bland, a 28-year-old black woman who died in a Texas jail last year, said they have reached a settlement in the wrongful death lawsuit filed in federal court.
Geneva Reed-Veal, Bland’s mother, filed the lawsuit against the trooper who arrested Bland, the state agency that employed him, Waller County sheriff’s employees and the county itself less than a month after authorities said her daughter was found dead in a Waller County jail cell.
“Emotionally, this is a victory for mothers across the country,” Reed-Veal told ABC 13, a news channel in Texas. She said the settlement was for $1.9 million.
Reed-Veal also told the network that as part of the agreement, the county jail would make a series of changes, including improving staff training and adding emergency nurses at the jail.
Attorneys for Waller County said in a statement Thursday morning that “a potential settlement agreement has been reached, but is not yet final,” adding that there are still details being sorted out and that it must be approved by county officials. They also criticized the fact that news of this agreement got out.
“The parties also agreed in writing that the potential settlement was to remain confidential until finalized, after which time it would be public record,” Larry Simmons, an attorney representing Waller County, said in the statement. “The Waller County defendants intend to honor this commitment. The Waller County defendants also emphasize they vigorously deny any fault or wrongdoing, and the potential settlement does not involve any such admissions.”
An attorney for Bland’s family could not be immediately reached for comment Thursday morning.
Simmons also said the settlement amount is confidential until it is approved and will not involve any county money “other than a modest $1,000 deductible.”
In the lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, Reed-Veal said that jail personnel “were willful, wanton and reckless” in dealing with her daughter. She also said they showed “a conscious disregard” for Bland’s safety.
This lawsuit said that jail personnel put her in a cell with “a variety of inappropriate items for a jail cell, including a large garbage can, garbage bags, exposed beams, cords, and other items.” It also said employees “failed to appropriately respond” when Bland did not eat her meals and “had bouts of uncontrollable crying.”
Bland’s death in July 2015, coming amid an intense national debate over how police officers treat black Americans, prompted national protests. A grand jury opted not to indict anyone for Bland’s death, a decision that was criticized by her relatives.
Bland was arrested during a traffic stop that turned confrontational. Video footage of the traffic stop, released by authorities after her death, showed Trooper Brian Encinia ordering Bland out of the car when she questioned his request that she put out her cigarette.
After Bland refused, the video shows the trooper opening the door, trying to pull her out of the car and threatening her with a Taser, saying: “I will light you up!”
Authorities ultimately declared Bland’s death in a county jail to be a suicide, something her relatives have questioned. Encinia, the trooper who arrested Bland, was indicted earlier this year on a perjury charge and fired not long after.
The Texas Department of Public Safety, the agency that fired Encinia and was named in Bland’s family’s lawsuit, said Thursday that it has not settled any litigation regarding Bland and was not party to any agreements between her family and Waller County officials.
After Bland’s death, U.S. Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch said the episode spotlighted fears many black Americans have about encounters with law enforcement.
“It highlights the concern of many in the black community that a routine stop for many members of the black community is not handled with the same professionalism and courtesy that other people may get from the police,” Lynch, the first African American woman to serve as attorney general, told ABC News.
This story, first published at 9:59 a.m., has been updated with new details during the day.