The district attorney for Waller County, where 28-year-old Sandra Bland died in jail last week, announced that the probe into her death is being treated like a murder investigation. "There are too many questions that need to be resolved,” Elton Mathis said at a press conference on Monday, according to the Texas Chronicle. “Ms. Bland's family does make valid points. She did have a lot of things going on in her life for good.”
Mathis told members of the Bland family at a meeting Tuesday morning that the evidence indicated she committed suicide in her jail cell. "Do I believe this is a murder? No. I believe it's a suicide." However, the D.A. promised to keep investigating her death.
But according to the Associated Press, Mathis also called Bland an “it” and encouraged the public to assess her behavior during the traffic stop that led to her arrest: "Sandra Bland was very combative," Mathis said about a dash cam video set to be released to the public on Tuesday. "It was not a model traffic stop … and it was not a model person that was stopped on a traffic stop. I think the public can make its own determinations as to the behaviors that are seen in the video."
So, Mathis indicates that Bland’s death will be treated like a murder investigation, but also suggests the public should make up its mind about whether or not Bland’s behavior was appropriate. Those two statements don’t correlate: Why should the public make up its mind about Sandra Bland if the D.A. has committed to a formal and fair investigation into her death? If Mathis agrees that Bland’s death is mysterious, is public opinion of her behavior at the traffic stop really a determining factor in her death? Why mention it?
Writers reacted to Mathis’ statement on Twitter:
This is not the first time the Waller district attorney’s behavior toward black Americans has been called into question.
Last year after the Rev. Walter Pendleton, a pastor in Waller County, publicly criticized the DA for prosecuting too many minorities, he said Mathis sent a slew of threatening text messages, the Texas Tribune reported.
From the Tribune:
"Don't ever call me again. You went over the line," Mathis wrote in one text.
Pendleton texted back that Mathis was engaging in "selective prosecution," according to a transcript provided by Pendleton.
Mathis: "You are too stupid to know what that word means." The prosecutor then cited examples of white public officials whom he had successfully prosecuted.
"My hounds ain't even started yet dumb ass," Mathis wrote. "Keep talking. When I talk people will listen. Keep talking and I will sue your ass for slander. It works both ways. 'Dr.' Take your fake Dr. Ass and jump off a high cliff."
Pendleton, pastor of Pendleton Chapel Baptist Church in Hempstead, said Tuesday, "I am afraid of my life because he said his hounds are out. What do hounds do? They hunt."
Collier Meyerson is a reporter at Fusion with a focus on race and politics. She lives in Brooklyn.