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21 Jul, 2015 17:12

'I will light you up': Sandra Bland arrest footage released after suspicious jail death

'I will light you up': Sandra Bland arrest footage released after suspicious jail death

Texas officials have released police dashcam footage showing an officer threatening to drag activist Sandra Bland out of her car and "light her up" with a Taser. Bland's death in a Texas jail cell is being investigated as murder, a district attorney said.

Police in Waller County said Bland had committed suicide when she was found dead three days after the incident, but her family considers that unlikely.

Bland, 28, was arrested on July 10 after a traffic stop in Prairie View, Texas, about 60 miles northwest of Houston. The newly released dashcam footage from the Texas Department of Public Safety shows Texas state trooper Brian Encinia repeteadly yelling at Bland to step out of her vehicle.

Prior to arresting Bland, Encinia tells Bland she seems very irritated. Bland was pulled over by the officer for failing to signal while changing lanes.

“I am, I really am [irritated], because I feel like it’s crap what I’m getting a ticket for," she said to Encinia. "I was getting out of your way, you were speeding up, tailing me so I moved over and you stopped me. So yeah, I am a little irritated but that doesn’t stop you from giving me a ticket...”

Soon afterwards, Encinia orders Bland to step out of her car. Bland resists, saying there's no reason for her to leave over the traffic violation. As the argument escalates, Encinia opens the car door himself and tells her to step out. 

“I’m going to yank you out of here,” he tells Bland. When she resists and states she is not under arrest, Encinia says she is under arrest.

“I’m going to drag you out of here," Encinia continues, before pulling ut a Taser, pointing it at Bland and yelling, "Get out of the car. I will light you up."

At this point, Bland leaves the car and the two leave the camera's field of view. Bland continues to protest her arrest after the officer puts her in handcuffs. She complains that Encinia is about to "break her wrist" and that he "slammed" her down and "knocked her head into the ground."

Police said she was argumentative, uncooperative and combative, and assaulted one of the officers. Anopther video of the arrest, taken by a member of the public, shows two officers pinning Bland to the ground as she complains of mistreatment.

Locked up in the Waller County jail over the weekend, Bland was found on the morning of July 13 hanging from the ceiling of her cell by a noose made from a trash bag.

"There are many questions being raised about this case," Waller County District Attorney Elton Mathis said at a news conference on Monday evening. "It needs a thorough and exhaustive review."

Waller County jail has released a video showing the emergency medical team arriving to Bland's cell.

He said it was "too early to make any kind of determination that this is a suicide or a murder," and once all the evidence has been gathered, it would be presented to a grand jury. Mathis said the investigators will pay particular attention to any DNA or fingerprints on the trash bag found around Bland’s neck, other than her own.

"This investigation is still being treated just as it would be in a murder investigation," Mathis added.

At the same press conference, Captain of Patrol Brian Cantrell from Waller County Sheriff's Office explained that Bland had been locked up in the “high risk” section of the jail because she had assaulted an officer, "for the safety of other inmates."

"I want to make clear that the death of Ms. Bland was a tragic incident — not one of criminal intent or a criminal act," Cantrell said.

However, Bland’s relatives are rejecting the official account that describes her death as suicide, and some believe she may have been killed, according to family attorney Cannon Lambert.

"This family is really looking to understand what happened," Lambert told reporters. "We don't understand this. It doesn't make sense."

READ MORE: ‘What happened in that jail?’ FBI to probe death of black activist found hanging in Texas cell

"Sandra Bland was very combative. It was not a model traffic stop. It was not a model person that was stopped," District Attorney Mathis said at the press conference on Monday.

Three days earlier, the Texas Department of Public Safety said it had assigned the officer involved in the stop to desk duty, after identifying “violations of the department's procedures regarding traffic stops and the department's courtesy policy."

Visiting the jail where Bland died, Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick urged the public not to jump to any conclusions.

"Wait for the investigation to be completed and then see what the facts have to say,” he said. “But regardless, it is a tragedy anytime when a young woman loses her life.”

Bland, who lived in Chicago, graduated from the Prairie View A&M School of Agriculture in 2009, and was returning to the university to take a job with the Cooperative Extension Services, a farm research project.

“I will admit it is strange someone who had everything going for her would have taken her own life,” District attorney Mathis told NBC affiliate KPRC in Houston last week. “If there is something nefarious, or if there was some foul play involved, we’ll get to the bottom of that.”

According to the Texas Tribune, her death was “eerily similar” to the 2012 case of James Harper Howell IV, a white man from nearby Bandera. Howell, 29, was arrested for felony marijuana possession, trying to run away in a car, and assaulting an officer. After a week in Waller County jail, he was found hanging from a bed sheet tied to a ceiling vent, the Houston Chronicle reported at the time.