Sandra Bland Act proposes criminal justice reforms in Texas

ByLiz Nagy via WLS logo
Thursday, March 2, 2017
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Its creators say the Sandra Bland Act is designed to improve the criminal justice system in Texas.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Sandra Bland was arrested in Texas in 2015 and found dead in her jail cell days later. Now, lawmakers are introducing the Sandra Bland Act in honor of the Chicago area native. Its creators say it is designed to improve the criminal justice system in Texas.

Bland's mother says these are the kind of changes she has been pushing for since her 28-year-old daughter's sudden death in 2015.

The Texas representative who is proposing this piece of legislation says the goal is to address race, mental health, and accountability for police and corrections officers.

Bland's 2015 jail cell death - deemed a suicide - is considered a stain on the Texas criminal justice system.

After a comprehensive study of state policies, and fatal cases like Bland's, Texas Representative Garnet Coleman is moving to make big legal changes.

"This bill, hopefully, will save someone else's life," said Geneva Reed Veal, Bland's mother.

Bland was pulled over by police outside Houston in July 2015 after failing to use a turn signal. In 52 minutes of dash cam video you see the situation escalate, ending with Bland in handcuffs, charged with assault on a public servant.

"In Sandy's case, she didn't even need to be going. She should have just received a warning," Veal said. "When you talk about training, de-escalation for the cops - that is something that we asked for very early on."

Bland's mother has fought hard to make her daughter's death an impetus for legal change. The goal of the bill bearing Bland's name is to change police training, and help jails recognize dangerous situations in locked cells.

"She's made it safer for everyone, whether it be law enforcement, people driving on our Texas highways, individuals in jail with mental illness," Rep. Coleman said.

The bill also includes a proposal for raising the threshold for police stops to higher than probable cause and reasonable suspicion.

The executive director of the Texas Municipal Police Association said his group would oppose the changes, saying the new standards would help defense attorneys and confuse juries.