On July 13, 2015 the Waller county jail in Hempstead, Texas claimed that Sandra Bland took her own life in an isolation cell using a plastic bag. The country watched in outrage over her arrest and subsequent death. The family of Bland are adamant that she did not take her own life; however, a grand jury has decided that there is not enough evidence to make an indictment to prove otherwise. Fast forward five months to December 27, 2015 just an hour and a half from Waller County to Harris County where Houston’s Fox 26 media outlet announced that Robert Stephen was found dead in his isolation cell at Houston Police Department’s central jailhouse.
How are these two incidents similar? Both victims were claimed to have resisted arrest and behaved erratically which led to them being placed in isolation with the clearance of medical examinations. Both victims were brought in on charges that would lead to their ultimate release, so it wasn’t as if they were expecting to spend any significant amount of time in jail. And the most alarming and heartbreaking similarity is that both victims were found dead in jail while in the custody of police authorities, with their families emphatically claiming that neither of these victims were suicidal.
How are these two incidents different? (1) Bland was in jail for three days before she was said to have taken her own life, while Stephen was in jail for approximately seven hours after his initial arrest before being found unresponsive. (2)The authorities of Waller County admitted that they failed to check on Bland hourly using face to face contact and used an intercom instead; however, the spokes person for HPD claims that Stephen was checked on every 15 mins while he was detained. That means they made contact with Stephen four times an hour for a total of approximately 28 times during his confinement, yet he still able to wind up dead. With the annual training jailers receive from the mental health department required by the state of Texas, and such thorough and robust contact and communication with the inmate, surely they would have noticed or suspected any potential issues.
The Huffington Post stated that in 2011 the Department of Justice reported that an average of six people died by “suicide” every week in local jails around the country, and while foul play cannot be excluded as a possibility, these very statistics should have lead to the desire for massive reform among county jails, but by the looks of things not much has changed at all.
Although concluding that suicide or foul play are the reasons behind the death of Robert Stephen may be a little too hasty, one can assume that at the bare minimum his death was a result of sheer negligence on the part of the jailhouse staff. We are still waiting for answers and a more thorough statement from authorities about the medical condition of Stephen, we are still waiting to know what could have been done differently to prevent such a tragedy. We are still waiting to see who, if anyone is at fault here. We are still waiting for justice to be served. #JusticeForBobby