Remembering My Sister, Sandy

October 08, 2015
Sandra Bland's sister Sharon Cooper kneels at Bland's burial site at the Mt. Glenwood Memorial Gardens West cemetery Saturday, July 25, 2015, in Willow Springs, Ill.

Sandra Bland's sister Sharon Cooper kneels at Bland's burial site at the Mt. Glenwood Memorial Gardens West cemetery Saturday, July 25, 2015, in Willow Springs, Ill. An autopsy report released Friday found that Sandra Bland used a plastic trash bag to hang herself three days after a confrontational traffic stop. The 28-year-old woman’s family has questioned the findings, saying she was excited about starting a new job and wouldn’t have taken her own life.

Christian K. Lee/AP

It was standing room only when Sharon Cooper took the stage Tuesday night on the University of Illinois’ Urbana campus to talk about her little sister she calls Sandy.

"She was a vibrant girl from Illinois that had so much to live for," said Cooper.

Sandra Bland was pulled over in Waller County, TX for allegedly failing to signal a lane change on July 10th. There are many questions about what happened next. The struggle between her and state trooper, Brian Encinia, was recorded by the dash cam and a bystander’s cell phone.

Emergency personnel carry a gurney near Sandra Bland's jail cell, at the Waller County jail in Hempstead, Texas.

Photo Credit: Waller County Sheriff's Department via AP

Bland was charged with assaulting an officer.

Authorities say she hung herself with a plastic trash bag and ruled her death a suicide.Three days later, Bland's body was found hanging in her jail cell.

Her family disputes that.

Cooper and her family are currently doing their own investigation, but she's still searching for the missing pieces surrounding her little sister’s death.

“We do not have the maxi dress you see her in in that video. We don’t have her cell phone, and I’m really concerned that if we get it back, it wont be in that state," said Cooper, "We don't have the trash bag that she allegedly hung herself with, in terms of lending credence to our autopsy results, we don’t have the gastric contents of her body, we don’t have the toxicology results that they’ve referenced with the high levels of THC, and no police report. None that we’ve seen or been given. “

Cooper said she had to put her grief on hold as word of Sandra’s death began to make headlines across the country.

Cooper said the results of her sister’s autopsy were made public before they reached the family, prompting her to channel her grief into controlling the narrative about her sister’s character in the media.

Jeanette Williams places a bouquet of roses at a memorial for Sandra Bland near Prairie View A&M University, Tuesday, July 21, 2015, in Prairie View, Texas. 

Photo Credit: Pat Sullivan/AP

But Cooper isn’t alone. She finds strength and comfort among the families of those who have lost loved ones to what she describes as police brutality.

“What I call the sullying and all out vilification of her character started the moment we brought home her body from Texas. And all of the reports started coming out about the possibility of marijuana in her system and the levels of it, and you know just the fact that it was released to the media, and not to the family... you know just to have that play out on a public stage. You have to make the decision to move yourself from the passenger seat to the driver’s seat, and I just thought that that was really important," said Cooper.

“While it’s a club that you do not want to be a part of, there’s a significant amount of support and strength there. We’ve met Trayvon's mother, Mike Brown’s mother, Eric Garner’s mother, Tamir Rice’s mother… so many notable names that have been out there in the news, so to meet them, to be able to touch and actually feel their pain has been therapeutic.”

Sharon Cooper says she wants justice for her sister’s death. And she says justice starts with accountability.

Bland’s family has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Waller County, TX, the Texas Department of Public Safety, jailers Oscar Prudente and Elsa Magnus and arresting officer, Brian Encinia.

“We have to hold people accountable for their actions when they act in a way that’s not in alignment with the oath that they took. In this particular situation, I think the key word is de-escalation, right? It was the officer’s responsibility to de-escalate the situation, and he didn’t do so, although we know something bad happened to Sandy in jail that resulted in her not walking out alive, we know that the reason she was there was at the hand of an overzealous police officer, and to be quite frank, she shouldn’t have been there in the first place,” Cooper said.

The Texas Attorney General's office asked U.S. District Judge David Hittner to dismiss the complaint, arguing the police agency has constitutionally protected immunity and Encinia has qualified immunity. State lawyers also contend the lawsuit raises vague and insufficient allegations of civil rights violations.

Courtesy of Texas Department of Safety

Story source: WILL