An ABC Chicago affiliate reported late Wednesday that a Naperville, Illinois woman named Sandra Bland died in police custody in Texas on July 13 after having been arrested three days earlier following a routine traffic stop. The sheriff’s department in Waller County, Texas says Bland apparently killed herself, and sheriff Glenn Smith appeared on ABC’s report to say she’d been arrested after a stop for improperly changing lanes because she was “combative.”
However: Video shows Bland complaining that she’d been abused by the officers arresting her, those who know her don’t believe she committed suicide, and now activist-journalist Shaun King of Daily Kos has found that sheriff Smith was fired from a previous job as police chief in 2008 after several allegations that he and members of his department had engaged in racially biased behavior and police brutality.
Details are relatively sparse, but pieces by the Houston Chronicle and an area TV reporter indicate that Smith was fired by the Hempstead City Council after several allegations of police misconduct, not all of which involved racial issues. The council did not name a formal reason why Smith was terminated, but the Chronicle reported the year before the firing on an incident in which council members suspended Smith “for two weeks without pay after viewing videotapes and hearing allegations of racism from local residents against him” and other officers. That incident involved the arrest of a black man named Cory Labba; the Chronicle says Smith “acknowledged he used profanity and was unprofessional” during Labba’s arrest but denied race was a motivating factor in his behavior. A Chronicle story later in 2008 on Smith’s campaign to become Waller County sheriff said he may have been fired because of “incidents involving police misconduct toward African-Americans,” mentioning a department raid on a home that was targeted in error and an incident in which young black men were publicly strip-searched.
Hempstead, the seat of Waller County, is about 50 miles northwest of downtown Houston.