Tom Rhodes: Sandra Bland's legacy of jail and law enforcement reform


The suicide of Sandra Bland in a Waller County jail last July was an unmistakable and very likely a preventable tragedy.

But its not one that need have occurred in vain.

Blands family, friends and advocates have been relentless in working to ensure that is not the case.

The 28-year-old African-American woman was found hanged in her jail cell last July, three days after she was arrested during a routine traffic stop northwest of Houston.

While dashcam footage showed acontentious exchangebetween Bland and the arresting officer, the incident and Blands death revealed a series of law enforcement failures and jail conditions that made her suicide possible.

This week, the Waller County Court of Commissioners approved a$1.8 million settlementto resolve a wrongful death lawsuit filed by Blands family.

But the meaningful legacy of the suit is that it also includes an agreement by Waller County to initiate changes in jailing and law enforcement practices that could help prevent future tragedies, including a requirement that a nurse or emergency medical technician be at the county jail during all shifts.

For its part, the Texas Department of Public Safety (which was not a party to the suit) will pay $100,000 and according to Tom Rhodes, the Bland family attorney, also agreed to implement statewide de-escalation training for all current and incoming troopers.

Such training was a point ofcontentionduring a hearing before the Texas House Committee in County Affairs Tuesday, when DPS Director Steve McCraw testified that 76 hours of de-escalation training is already required for recruits.

Regardless, DPS would be well-served to review its training protocols and recruitment requirements.

The Legislature has a role to play, too, which will include legislation to be introduced next session that addresses how mental health issues are handled by the criminal justice system.

In the case of Bland, much-needed changes may result from tragedy.

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