Outraged residents in Texas city where Sandra Bland died demand answers in councilman's tasing

More than two dozen people gathered at City Hall on Thursday demanding that authorities answer questions about the tasing and arrest last week of Jonathan Miller, an African-American councilman in this city that was scrutinized this year after the arrest and jail cell death of Sandra Bland.

Miller, 26, was greeted warmly before the meeting with handshakes and hugs — including from a passing police officer.

“You were there for us, so we wanted to be there for you,” said one of the supporters, Latoya Smith, 27, who arrived wearing a T-shirt saying “Justice for Sandra Bland.”

Miller was tased a week earlier after he attempted to intervene with police officers who had stopped to question a few of his friends gathered in front of his apartment. Miller knew the officers from his council work.

But the officers ordered Miller to step away from the scene. The situation escalated and Miller was tased on his back while kneeling on the ground — a scene captured on police cameras and his friend’s phone.

He was arrested on suspicion of interfering with a public servant and resisting arrest and held overnight in the same county jail where Bland, 28, died after being stopped in July for failing to signal a lane change. Her death was among several high-profile cases this year that have fueled a national debate about racial profiling and police use of force. Miller’s treatment has renewed the debate in Prairie View.

Miller's case has been turned over to the local district attorney, who had yet to charge him Thursday.

Mayor Frank Jackson, who is also African American, initially called a special council meeting to discuss the case but canceled it late Wednesday, citing the advice of city attorneys.

“We couldn't discuss anything substantive” and were told by attorneys “to stand down,” Jackson said, standing by his decision to cancel. 

Two City Council members showed up in council chambers Thursday anyway, although Jackson and the police chief were absent. More than a dozen mostly African American residents spoke, many complaining of unfair treatment by police and officials.

“What was done to this young man was unethical,” said the Rev. Harold Harris, 50, of Prairie View, a predominately African American city 50 miles northwest of Houston.

David Allen, 60, urged fellow residents to return for the next City Council meeting on Oct. 27.

“We need to show up and still demand what happened to Sandra Bland and what happened to Jonathan Miller,” Allen said.

Miller, a native of Pittsburg, Calif., graduated from Prairie View A&M University this year with a degree in education and has been substitute-teaching. He wants all charges dropped to clear his name. Police posted the tasing images from body and dashboard cameras online.

Miller said he was glad outraged residents had a chance to speak out, as he has.

“I didn't feel like I did anything wrong,” he said, “Hopefully we can get to the point where officers know how to handle these situations.”

molly.hennessy-fiske@latimes.com

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