A Houston-area state representative is vowing to carry a bill designed to reform the practices and procedures of law enforcement and county jails.
State Rep. Garnet Coleman (D-Houston) plans to file the legislation in dedication to Sandra Bland. In July 2015, Bland was pulled over by a DPS Trooper in Waller County for failing to signal while changing lanes. After the interaction between her and the officer escalated, Bland was arrested for assaulting a public servant. Three days following her arrest, Bland was found dead inside her Waller County Jail cell from what officials attributed to suicide.
Coleman, who chairs the House County Affairs Committee, says his bill aims to reform every aspect of those found in Sandra Bland’s case.
Before being placed in a cell, Bland alerted officers she had previously attempted suicide, indicating the possibility of concerns surrounding her mental health. Coleman’s bill would ensure that all jails have access to on-site mental health professionals for a pre-detention evaluation. Following suit with the growing use of diversion programs, Coleman additionally plans to create a program that would divert mentally ill offenders from even being booked through traditional methods.
“We’re looking at telemedicine, as well as mental health authorities and EMS,” Coleman said.
He also announced that the Sandra Bland Act would end pretext stops and consent searches.
“Quite frankly, it is disturbing that somebody can be pulled over for not signaling and then end up in jail, and end up dead.”
Pretext stops are when officers stop someone on a minor traffic violation (such as failing to signal) to investigate another suspected offense. Coleman noted that 17 other states have already banned the use of pretext stops. Consent searches are simply searches conducted by officers after asking permission, which he says are used to get around probable cause in search of a potential violation.
Bland’s family was recently awarded a $1.9 million settlement for a wrongful death lawsuit against DPS and Waller County. Going forward, Waller County Jail will have to have a medical professional on duty at all times and install electronic devices in the jail to make sure guards are routinely checking in on inmates.
Saying he will work with county jails to ensure that the requirements in his act will not cause costs to increase, he hopes for statewide reform so future cases similar to Sandra Bland’s can be avoided.