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Church Walk Scheduled Sunday in Memory of Sandra Bland; Legality of Traffic Stop by Officer Questioned

( [email protected] ) Jul 23, 2015 08:56 PM EDT
A church in Illinois has scheduled a walk on Sunday in memory of Sandra Bland, who died in police custody in Texas. Her traffic stop by Texas police officer is also receiving extra scrutiny.
PHOTO: An undated photo of Sandra Bland from her Facebook page.

A church in Illinois has scheduled a walk on Sunday in memory of Sandra Bland, who died in police custody in Texas. Her traffic stop by Texas police officer is also receiving extra scrutiny.

According to Geoff Ziezulewicz of Naperville Sun, DuPage African Methodist Episcopal Church, located in the Illinois town of Lisle, will hold a memorial event at 10 a.m. Sunday for 28-year-old Bland, who was found dead Monday in a Texas jail cell. A message posted on the church's Facebook page indicated that Bland grew up within that church family.

"As her church family, we mourn," Rev. James F. Miller wrote on Facebook, adding that church members would walk the grounds "as a public expression of unity and a desire for justice in her case along with so many others."

According to Ziezulewicz, Texas officials claimed that Bland committed suicide by hanging. However, Bland's family raised questions about the official account of her death.

"Bland's death in Waller County, northwest of Houston, has also sparked an outcry on social media and furthered the ongoing national debate about police treatment of African-Americans," Ziezulewicz wrote.

Officials from the Texas Department of Public Safety told the Naperville Sun that Bland was pulled over by police on July 10 after failing to signal a lane change. Department spokesman Trooper Erik Burse claimed that Bland would have been let go with a written warning, but she kicked an officer, resulting in a charge of assaulting a public servant.

"She was very aggravated. She seemed to be in pain. She really felt that her arm had been fractured," Bland's sister Shante Needham said. "I told her I would work on getting her out."

Legal analyst Danny Cevallos of CNN looked at the legality and fairness behind Bland's traffic stop. He contended that there were a few "bright-line rules" in the "sometimes nebulous law of car stops."

"If your motor vehicle is lawfully stopped for a traffic violation, police can order you out of the car," Cevallos wrote.

According to Cevallos, the U.S. Supreme Court would probably uphold that rule based on legal precedent.

"In Pennsylvania v. Mimms, the Supreme Court held that if a vehicle is lawfully detained for a traffic violation, the police officers may, without violating the search and seizure limitations of the Fourth Amendment, order the driver to exit their car," Cevallos wrote. "This also includes the power to conduct a pat-down search of the driver if the officer reasonably concludes the driver is armed and dangerous."

However, Cevallos found "a more nuanced constitutional problem" with Bland's traffic stop.

"Notice that as she's being arrested, the officer tells Bland that he was originally just going to give her a warning," Cevallos wrote. "But if you go back to the moment he returned to the car with a warning, it seems he never told her that. So only the trooper knew that Bland was going to be released with a warning."

Cevallos pointed out that police continue their investigation after the traffic stop is completed. He noted that the courts concluded that the traffic stop evolves to a mere "consensual encounter" after an officer allows the driver to freely go.

"This is where the Sandra Bland car stop, together with the advent of audio and video-recorded stops, really highlights the disconnect between Fourth Amendment jurisprudence, and the reality we live in," Cevallos wrote. "At the moment the car stop concluded with the supposed warning, Bland should have been free to leave. But officers know what we all know: No one feels free to leave with an officer at the window with his car parked behind, lights ablaze."

According to Cevallos, the "limitless authority" of police during traffic stops can turn "the rest of us into functional cowards and sycophants."

"It's all about self-preservation. Bravery has no place when you're pulled over," Cevallos wrote. "Bland was no coward. But she also ended up arrested. With lots of force."

Cevallos contended that based on Bland's case, "being constitutionally in the right is little consolation when you're contemplating your next court date from a jail cell."

"It often comes down to economics: It's more expensive to sit in jail and hire an attorney to vindicate those rights, than it is to simply avoid an arrest -- or even a ticket -- with a few well-timed "yes sirs,'" Cevallos wrote. "While some may admire another's act of fearless civil disobedience, nearly all of us would opt instead for fearful obedience -- and avoid a night in jail."

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