Exactly one year ago Sandra Bland, a 28-year old black woman, was found dead in a Waller County Jail cell just days after her arrest from a traffic stop that started as a failure to signal a lane change, then quickly escalated. The interaction between her and the arresting officer was recorded by a bystander and has been highly debated. The officer has since lost his job and is facing a perjury charge.
The incident also sparked a review by an independent citizen panel which recommended changes at the Waller County Jail. JoAnne Musick, president of the Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association, contributed to that report. She says that in the three months since the committee made its recommendations, some of their suggestions have been implemented. One was additional training for officers.
“(The sheriff) started within a day or two of our report with what he calls a de-escalation training, where they teach officers to bring the situation down rather than allow it to continue to escalate,” Musick says.
Training on mental health issues was also included.
“Incorporated in that is a mental health component for the officers,” she says. “They intend to enter into a larger program, but they wanted to get started on something right away.”
Musick says one element that hasn’t been implemented yet is body cameras –because of the cost.
“They have a very small budget, it’s smaller rural county so they don’t have the finances to move forward on everything right away,” she says. “And we took a lot of that into consideration as we put together our report because we wanted to be able to give them things that were at least attainable.”
While their report is completed, the committee’s work isn’t done.
“We’ve made ourselves available, we’ve told the sheriff he can call on us at any point in time,” Musick says. “If things are working, not working, we can help them find additional avenues. It’s really in his hands, but we are all remaining available should they reach out and request anything. And then we do periodically check in.”
Listen to the full interview in the player above.
Post by Alexa Hart