Sandra Bland’s family has reached a $1.9 million settlement in a wrongful death lawsuit — an agreement that has brought “joy” after a year of grief, Bland’s mother said.
The settlement includes compensation for Bland’s death in custody as well as several changes to jail procedures in Waller County, Texas. Bland was found dead in her jail cell three days after she was pulled over for failing to use her turn signal in July 2015.
Bland family attorney Cannon Lambert said the jail procedure changes include:
— Using automated electronic sensors to ensure timely cell checks
— Providing an on-duty staff nurse or emergency medical technician for all shifts
— Providing continuing education for jailer screening
Larry Simmons, an attorney for Waller County, said in a statement that both sides still needed to iron out the final details of the settlement. which were supposed to remain confidential until after it was finalized.
As of now, Simmons said the settlement had yet to be completed, and still required approval from the Waller County Commissioners Court.
Nevertheless, Bland’s mother, Geneva Reed-Veal, said the settlement is a clear victory.
“Right now my emotion is joy, pure joy,” she told HLN’s Mike Galanos on Thursday. “There’s a sense of God’s justice for me.”
A controversial arrest
Bland’s death sparked outrage from those who said she never should have been arrested in the first place. Protesters said her arrest after failing to use a turn signal showed bias and excessive use of force by police against African-Americans.
Dashcam video shows the encounter Bland had with Texas State Trooper Brian Encinia started as a normal conversation but grew tense after Encinia asked her to put out her cigarette.
“I am in my car. Why do I have to put out my cigarette?” Bland said.
“You can step on out now,” Encinia replied.
Bland refused to get out of her car. The trooper opened her door and tried to pull her out of the vehicle.
In the video, Encinia told Bland she was under arrest. She repeatedly asked why. The trooper did not answer, other than to say, “I am giving you a lawful order.”
At one point, after Encinia aimed what appeared to be a Taser at Bland, she stepped out of her car. Later, she can be heard saying: “You’re a real man now. You just slammed me, knocked my head in the ground.”
In the arrest warrant, Encinia said Bland was out of control, calling her “combative and uncooperative.”
“Bland began swinging her elbows at me and then kicked my right leg in the shin,” Encinia said in the statement. “Force was used to subdue Bland to the ground, to which Bland continued to fight back.”
But Encina was later indicted on a perjury charged and fired.
On Thursday, the Texas Department of Public Safety, which employs state troopers, said the agency was not part of the wrongful death settlement.
Questions surrounding death
Three days after Bland was booked into jail, her body was found hanging in her cell.
Authorities ruled Bland’s death a suicide, but her family cast doubt, saying she would have never killed herself.
On the same day the preliminary autopsy results were released, CNN obtained a report that showed jail guards violated policies by failing to do timely checks on inmates.
The two-page “special inspection report” from the Texas Commission on Jail Standards does not mention Bland by name, but it was filed on July 16, 2015, three days after Bland’s body was found in her cell.
A timeline from the Waller County Sheriff’s Office said a guard stopped and briefly talked with Bland shortly after 7 a.m., but no one came back to check on her until 8:55 a.m.
The state report noted that there should be a “visual, face-to-face observation of all inmates by jailers no less than once every 60 minutes.”
After the wrongful death settlement, “The Waller County judge will be seeking passage of state legislation for more funding for local jails regarding intake and booking, screening and other jail support,” family attorney Lambert said.
According to Simmons, the proposed settlement agreement does not involve admissions of wrongdoing.
“The Waller County defendants also emphasize they vigorously deny any fault,” he noted in a statement.