A lot of things went tragically wrong in Sandra Bland’s arrest, leading to her death. One lawmaker wants to make sure none of it happens to anyone else.
Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, filed House Bill 2702, the Sandra Bland Act, this past week.
In 2015, Texas Department of Public Safety trooper Brian Encinia pulled Bland over for failing to use a turn signal and arrested her. Bland was found dead in her Waller County jail cell three days later.
“The Sandra Bland Act aims to improve and correct Texas’ criminal justice system to make it better for all people and prevent future tragedies like Sandra Bland’s,” HB 2702 says.
Not only should she have not been arrested for a fine-only offense — Encinia said she was “combative,” but he was later indicted for perjury and fired — she shouldn’t have been left alone in the jail without proper supervision or possible medical treatment.
HB 2702 breaks down into two major parts: racial profiling and the diversion of a person suffering from mental health issues or substance use disorder.
Coleman’s bill restricts officers from pulling over alleged traffic violators on pretext of another violation and gives agencies the ability to conduct investigations if racial profiling is suspected. It also adds more de-escalation training for officers.
The other significant portion addresses diversion programs so that arrested individuals with mental health issues or substance use disorder get treatment instead of jail time. One federal report says suicide is the No. 1 cause of death in local jails.
Bland reportedly had marijuana in her system when she died. Her death was ruled a suicide.
The bill would also mandate electronic monitoring systems to document inmate checks. From reports, almost two hours passed between checks on Bland on her last day, though protocol requires “face-to-face observation” every 60 minutes.
It’s almost a shame these two important issues are sandwiched in one bill.
Both were big factors in Bland’s death, and both areas need major reform, but the opposition to restricting what officers can do on a traffic stop might kill the bill and much-needed diversion programs with it.
We need both reforms. Legislators should be careful to not lose both in the process.