Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed the Sandra Bland Act into law Thursday to address the circumstances that led to Bland’s death in July 2015.
The new law mandates the county jails channel those with mental health and substance abuse issues to treatment and aims to make it easier for defendants to receive bond if they have a mental illness or disability, according to The Texas Tribune. The Sandra Bland Act also requires officers to receive de-escalation training and agencies to investigate jail deaths.
Bland, 28, had just moved from Chicago to start her new job in Texas when a Waller County cop stopped her for failing to signal. The encounter escalated when Bland refused to extinguish her cigarette at the officer’s request. He forcibly removed her from her vehicle and arrested her. She was locked in jail with a $5,000 bond. Three days after her arrest, she was found dead in her jail cell. Investigators ruled her death a suicide.
In April, Bland’s mother, Geneva Reed-Veal, traveled to Texas to demand change in the state’s policing policies. She testified before lawmakers about the importance of the bill.
“I need this bill to move forward so that it will prove to people who say that Texas is the most awful state to live in. And to me that’s true, because Texas is a place of pain for me,” she said. “So I need you to think about what you have the power and ability to do today.”
Since the family began pushing for passage, the bill faced some “gut-wrenching” revisions that weakened it, said Bland’s sister Sharon Cooper. The state Senate stripped the bill of provisions that would require additional proof for stopping and searching vehicles, and would prohibit arrests over offenses punishable by a fine. It ultimately removed language related to police encounters and mainly focused on mental health.
“It’s a complete oversight of the root causes of why she was jailed in the first place,” Cooper told The Texas Tribune in May. She added that the bill was a “missed opportunity.”
Houston Democrat Garnet Coleman, the author of the act, praised Abbott for signing the legislation and said in a statement that the Sandra Bland Act would help prevent similar cases.
“It is time that we make progress in criminal justice reform that will keep both law enforcement and the public safe and prevent future tragedies like Sandra Bland’s,” Coleman said. “The Sandra Bland Act has many important measures that will make everyone safer.”
The law goes into effect on Sept. 1.
EDWARD R GARCIA