Sandra Bland – who was vocal on the issue of police encounters with African Americans in the months leading up to her death in a jail cell in Texas -- had at least 10 encounters herself with police in both Illinois and Texas in past years.
And NBC5 Investigates has found that – at the time of her death last Friday -- she still owed a total of $7,579.00 in court fines resulting from five traffic stops in various Chicago suburbs (including a DUI), and she had been cited several times for her failure to pay those fines.
Bland was found dead in her jail cell Monday at the Waller County Jail in Hempstead, Texas. She had been arrested Friday in Waller County on a charge of assaulting a public servant. Her death has been ruled a suicide by what police called “self-inflicted asphyxiation.”
“Based on the Sandy that I knew, that’s unfathomable to me,” said her sister Sharon Cooper, who has been acting as the family’s spokesperson, said. “That’s the word that keeps ringing true for me. That’s very challenging to believe based on the Sandy that I, we and everyone that you have seen an outpouring of love from who knew her, truly knew her, truly knew the depths of her, the core of her, that’s unfathomable right now.”
Friends and family have questioned the official version of Bland’s death, noting that she was due to start a new job at a local college this week.
Video has since surfaced purporting to show Bland’s arrest. In the video, an officer is seen kneeling on Bland. Bland can be heard in the video saying “you slammed my head in the ground.”
Waller County District Attorney Elton Mathis said he will present the findings of an investigation by the Texas Rangers to a grand jury.
March of 2013 – Bland was stopped in Crestwood Township while driving a 2013 Cadillac DeVille and received two citations – for speeding 21-25 mph above the limit, and for operating an uninsured motor vehicle. She was fined $200, which – according to Cook County Court records – has not been paid.
November of 2013 – A report in a suburban newspaper says that Bland was arrested in Naperville; charged on a warrant, and transported to DuPage County Jail. The news report does not say what the warrant was for.
February of 2014 – Bland was stopped by Lombard Police and charged with operating an uninsured motor vehicle and driving with expired license plates. She was convicted in both charges and fined, but by May of 2014 court records show that she still owed $2,769.00 in fines, and the judge ordered that the Illinois Secretary of State be notified of her failure to pay.
March 3, 2014 – Naperville Police cited Bland for operating an uninsured motor vehicle. Court records show she was ordered to pay a fine, but was cited twice for failure to pay. In June of 2014 the court ordered that the Illinois Secretary of State be notified, and the docket lists a $1,313.00 balance still due.
March 8, 2014 – Approximately five days after her stop in Naperville, Bland was stopped by police in Lombard and charged with two counts of driving under the influence; speeding 15-20 mph over the speed limit; improper lane usage; disobeying a traffic control signal; failing to signal when changing lanes; driving on a suspended license, and operating an uninsured motor vehicle. The court found her guilty of one DUI charge, and all the other charges were dismissed. She received court supervision and was fined, and court records show that she still owes $3,132.00 in this case. (A spokesman with the Illinois Secretary of State’s office says Bland’s driver’s license was automatically suspended for six months – until November of 2014 – as a result of this DUI conviction.)
During that suspension – in May of 2014 – Naperville Police cited Bland for speeding 15-20 mph over the limit. According to the DuPage County court docket, Bland “fail[ed] to comply” in the case in June of 2014 and again in August of 2014, when the court ordered the Illinois Secretary of State to be notified. Records show a $45.00 balance due in this case, though a court spokesman says the actual amount owed is $165.00. The outcome in this case is not clear.
These notifications would have come up when Bland next tried to renew her license, according to the Illinois Secretary of State spokesman, and she would be required to pay all balances due.
NBC5 Investigates found five other police encounters involving Sandra Bland ranging from 2010 back to 2004:
May of 2010 – Bland was charged in two separate court cases in Harris County, Texas, for misdemeanor possession of a small amount of marijuana and driving while intoxicated. Court records show that the DWI charge was dismissed, but Bland pled guilty in September of 2010 to the pot charge.
April of 2009 – Bland was charged in Harris County with misdemeanor possession of drug paraphernalia, but the charge was dismissed.
June of 2005 – Bland was stopped by police in Oakbrook Terrace and charged with two traffic violations: Driving too fast for conditions or failure to reduce speed to avoid an accident, and operating an uninsured motor vehicle. She pled guilty to both charges; was given supervision, and paid a fine.
June of 2004 – Bland was charged by Elmhurst police with one count of retail theft of less than $150. She pled guilty to that charge in August of 2004; paid a fine; and was sentenced to community service and supervision.