The mysterious case of Sandra Bland

You don't have to be a liberal to be upset by the Sandra Bland arrest video.

Evidence points to suicide, not homicide, as the cause of a Chicago-area woman's death in a Texas jail cell outside Houston, Texas officials say. Yet the arresting officer's dash-cam video raises serious questions as to why Sandra Bland was arrested in the first place.

Bland, 28, from suburban Naperville, became a tragic national news story after she was found dead in a Waller County, Texas, jail cell on July 13, three days after she was arrested for a minor traffic offense.

The cause of death was listed as "self-inflicted asphyxiation" with a noose fashioned from a plastic garbage bag. The autopsy report released Thursday found no evidence or injuries that would suggest she was killed by anyone but herself, authorities said.

Her family found that hard to believe. She was looking forward to her new job at her alma mater, Prairie View A&M University, they said. But other evidence, including a video she posted on her Facebook page in March, indicated she might have had problems with depression in the past.

The death is being investigated by the Texas Rangers and the FBI.

But after a year of national controversies over police and their dealings with black suspects, the videotaped arrest of Bland, a black woman, by Texas State Trooper Brian T. Encinia raises new questions about the right way and the wrong way to handle a routine traffic stop.

After pulling her over and writing a warning for failure to use her turn signal, Encinia is seen and heard arguing with Bland, ordering her to put her cigarette out, ordering her out of the car and pointing a stun gun at her as he threatens, "I will light you up."

All this for failure to use a turn signal? As Rebecca Robertson, the legal and policy director for American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, told The New York Times, "The initial stop should not have resulted in an arrest."

Encinia could have just handed Bland a ticket through the window and let her drive away, she said.

Instead we see him reaching in to pull her out of the car and, in another scene caught by a cellphone camera, wrestling her to the ground, as she loudly resists.

Was she resisting a "lawful order," as the officer insists? Or was she asserting her rights to smoke and exercise free speech? Those can be complicated questions for legal experts to work out.

But the trooper has been put on administrative leave for violating unspecified police procedures and the department's courtesy policy, spokesmen said. Judging by the video, the officer looks and sounds less like a seasoned professional than Barney "single bullet" Fife from The Andy Griffith Show" on a power trip.

Bland didn't help herself by arguing loudly with the officer. The most serious unwritten crime you can commit with some police is "contempt of cop." She appears to have committed that offense in the trooper's eyes even before he got physical.

But sound professional standards call for police to try to de-escalate such situations, not make them worse.

Even billionaire presidential candidate Donald Trump, who is seldom a model of understatement, told a reporter elsewhere in Texas, "This guy (Encinia) was overly aggressive. And I'm a huge fan of the police. But this guy was overly aggressive. Terribly aggressive."

At last, Trump has stumbled onto a position on which he and I can agree. You don't have to be a liberal to be upset about seeing a police officer provoke a routine traffic stop into a major civil liberties issue.

The family's suspicions are thoroughly understandable. But as experts have pointed out, the larger tragedy of suicides in local jails is how common they are: 43 per 100,000 in 2011, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, or more than three times the rate of the general population.

Ironically, Radley Balko, author of "The Rise of the Warrior Cop," wrote in The Washington Post blog, white suicide rates are higher than minority suicide rates in prison and outside, but minority suicides tend to get more attention because of racial suspicions.

In cases like Sandra Bland, it's easy to see why.

Clarence Page, a member of the Chicago Tribune Editorial Board, blogs at www.chicagotribune.com/pagespage

cpage@tribpub.com

Twitter @cptime

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