The claim: Sandra Bland was dead in her mugshot photo
Six years after the highly publicized death of Sandra Bland in police custody, social media users continue to circulate a conspiracy theory that police took mugshots after Bland had already died.
Bland, a 28-year-old Black woman, was arrested in July 2015 for allegedly assaulting Texas state trooper Brian Encinia during a traffic stop. Police said Bland died by suicide in her jail cell three days later.
Bland’s death drew outrage from people concerned with police violence against Black Americans. Conflicting accounts from law enforcement officials also created a vacuum for alternative explanations to blossom.
A Facebook post from June 2020 that is regaining traction repeats the claim that Bland was dead in her mugshot and purports to have photographic evidence. The post includes a picture showing Bland in an orange jumpsuit with her eyes rolled back into her head.
Sandra Bland was found dead in a Texas jail cell. (Photo: AP)
But Bland was alive when her mugshots were taken. In late July 2015, Waller County, Texas, officials released several hours of video footage showing Bland walking around the jail and sitting for her mugshot.
USA TODAY reached out to several Facebook users who shared the posts for comment.
Rumors swirled around Bland’s death
Skepticism of official narratives about Bland’s death has persisted online for years. Tweets and Facebook posts with the claim have been shared tens of thousands of times.
On July 10, 2015, Bland was booked into the Waller County jail after being charged with assaulting Encinia, who had stopped Bland for failing to signal a turn while driving. Three days later, Bland died by suicide in her jail cell.
The Texas Department of Public Safety later fired Encinia for escalating the situation during the traffic stop. Waller County settled a wrongful death lawsuit with Bland’s family for $1.9 million.
Jeanette Williams places a bouquet of roses at a memorial for Sandra Bland near Prairie View A&M University, in Prairie View, Texas on July 21, 2015. (Photo: Pat Sullivan, AP)
Still, some people felt the details of the case were too strange to be true. Others questioned how a routine traffic stop could have escalated to an assault charge. Nationwide tensions over the deaths of Black Americans in police custody — particularly at traffic stops — and evidence that law enforcement officials edited several segments from the dashcam video also heightened skepticism.
The hacker group Anonymous stoked the flames of conspiracy when it released a video claiming law enforcement officials murdered Bland during the traffic stop and took mugshot photos of her body to cover their tracks.
The claim that Bland was dead in her mugshot has proved popular on social media.
Mugshots taken while alive
As USA TODAY reported in 2015, video from the Waller County jail proved Bland was alive while her mugshots were taken.
The footage shows Bland walking back and forth in the jail’s entryway. It also shows Bland sitting down for her mugshot and then getting up.
The Facebook post includes two mugshots, one of which shows Bland’s eyes appearing to roll back in her head.
Gary Hershorn, who spent more than 30 years as a photography editor for Reuters, said it would be easy to alter Bland’s eyes from the official mugshot to make them appear to roll back. But Hershorn said based on the low-resolution Facebook post it’s impossible to tell for certain whether the image was manipulated.
Our rating: False
We rate the claim that Sandra Bland was dead in her mugshot photo FALSE, based on our research. Waller County officials released video that shows Bland alive as her mugshot was taken.
Our fact-check sources:
- TinEye Reverse Image Search, accessed June 18
- ABC-7 Chicago, July 15, 2015, Road trip for suburban woman ends in jailhouse death
- The Cut, July 27, 2015, BuzzFeed Helped Spread Far-Fetched Conspiracy Theories About Sandra Bland’s Death
- Gary Hershorn, June 21, Email interview with USA TODAY
- @6jjayllenn, May 28, 2020, tweet
- Westcoast Jody, June 4, 2020, Facebook post
- Mirror.UK, July 27, 2015, Sandra Bland: Anonymous release video claiming to ‘expose Texas police for releasing dead mugshot’
- NBC News, July 22, 2015, Sandra Bland Death: Texas to Look Into Alleged Edits of Dashcam Video
- NBC News, July 16, 2015, #JusticeForSandy: Sandy Bland Death in Texas Jail Sparks Questions
- USA TODAY, July 18, 2015, Sandra Bland death triggers #IfIDieInPoliceCustody trend
- USA TODAY, Sep. 15, 2016, Sandra Bland’s family settles wrongful death case for $1.9M
- The Texas Tribune, March 2, 2016, Trooper Who Arrested Sandra Band Formally Fired
- USA TODAY, July 28, 2015, Newly released Sandra Bland video shows her alive at Texas jail before death
- USA TODAY, July 24, 2015, Social media speculates whether Bland is dead in mugshot
- Vox, July 16, 2015, Police say Sandra Bland killed herself in jail. Here’s why that’s hard to believe.
- FotoForensics, accessed June 22
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