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Sandra Bland Family And Attorney Hold Press Conference; Interview with Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey; Family of Jailed U.S. Journalist Speaking Out. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired July 22, 2015 - 16:00   ET



[16:00:01] SHARON COOPER, SISTER OF SANDRA BLAND: From the petty charge to the officer asking her -- let's be clear -- he asked her, "Can you put your cigarette out for me, please?"

That's not an instruction. That's not a summons. That's an ask. He asked her. And she simply responded: "No, I don't have to put my cigarette out. I'm in my own car."

QUESTION: Did Sandra have a court date (OFF-MIKE)

COOPER: She did make an appearance in court. And she had been given bond at the time, which we were working on expeditiously to give her. We have not -- it has not been shared with us that she had a court date.

QUESTION: Sharon, what level of confidence do you have in the investigation that is ongoing right now with Texas authorities as well as (OFF-MIKE)

COOPER: They have been cooperative to date. And we hope that they will continue to do so.


QUESTION: Have you had your -- the autopsy you folks want, has that been done? Do you know the results of that yet?

COOPER: Quite frankly, I'm disgusted that we're even having a discussion about an autopsy, because she was pulled over for something so insignificant, and because of an officer who felt like maybe his ego was bruised and got in the way.

Not once did he ever say he felt threatened. But when you tell me that you're going to light me up, I feel extremely threatened and concerned, and I'm not going to get out of my car.

QUESTION: What does it mean for your family to have her back now as you go toward the weekend and have gone to bring her home? How has that been for all of you? And can you tell me (OFF-MIKE)

COOPER: I will be frank with you. That is a brief moment of gratification. It's brief, because we know that, in the coming days, we are going to have to lay our awesome beloved daughter, sister, friend, aunt to rest.

That's very difficult. It's the longest flight I have ever had. I'm sure my mother feels the same way, and my sisters do as well.

QUESTION: Can you all talk about maybe the outpouring from the (OFF- MIKE) community about this, and what that has meant for your family and also what you want to see going forward?

COOPER: Absolutely. I would be happy to.

It has been awe-inspiring, and I have kind of stepped back and looked at her and said, what am I doing with my life? Because let's be real here. She has been in the forefront of everybody's mind for the last seven days, but that peaked within 72 hours, from the love and support of people who knew her, who personally knew her in this community and this church, abroad, where she went to school.

People love her and genuinely care about her. I don't know if you all understand the magnitude that was going on with Sandra Bland this weekend. On Saturday, the rock at her old high school was painted, "Rest in peace, Sandy. We love you so much." Tons of people showed up to support her.

That following day, there was a prayer vigil in Houston, Texas, at HOPE AME Church, where the community came out in droves to support her and stand with us in solidarity. There were dignitaries from the state of Texas who were there, which I can clearly tell you is a display on our end, that they're there in solidarity with us and because they feel the very same way, that they have questions that something is wrong.

Following that, we just had a memorial service for her yesterday evening, where I can tell you that there were well over 200 people there, coupled with our prayer walk this week. She has been in the minds and thoughts of everybody, and I cannot tell you how appreciative we are, how much we have truly -- it's anchored us as a family much more than you will ever know. You want to talk about the power of social media, and using social media for good?

So, my ask, my family's ask, close friends of Sandy's ask, please keep tweeting, keep tweeting, keep Facebooking, keep Instagramming, keep Snapchatting, keep utilizing the hashtag #JusticeforSandy. Keep utilizing what happened to Sandra Bland? Keep utilizing Sandra Bland, and my all-time favorite, keep hashtagging #sayhername, because the minute that you forget her name, you forget her character, and that she was a person.

So that is my humble ask on behalf of me and my family.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) There's no accusations of bias in there. In light of that and with the grand jury investigation, how hopeful are you that you're really going to find out the truth of what happened after the fact?

COOPER: My hope is based off of execution and not -- not promises.

We just want to make sure that the things that are being communicated to us are honored. And so we want to make sure that there is ongoing collaboration, effort and transparency in terms of finding out what happened to Sandra Bland.


QUESTION: Have the (OFF-MIKE) authorities asked -- said anything to the family about this officer's behavior? Have they commented about the way this officer behaved during that traffic stop?

COOPER: They have commented about as much as you all have read, which is simply that it was inappropriate, and they put him on administrative leave. I do understand he's on administrative leave at this time.

QUESTION: But they haven't detailed what he did wrong with the family in conversations?


QUESTION: Would you give a timeline again about...


QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) not altered now?

COOPER: That's not our specialty. We certainly seek out an expert who could clarify that for us, so we won't respond to that at this time.

QUESTION: Are you all just kind of in a holding pattern until the investigation is complete? (OFF-MIKE) first. Walk us through the timeline of what legally you feel like you can do next and what that process will look like.

CANNON LAMBERT, BLAND FAMILY ATTORNEY: Legally -- legally, we are in the process of kind of scouring the area to try and find individuals that might have information regarding how the incident happened or might have information regarding what happened in the jail.

In addition to that, we're also continuing to ask for the documentation that we have not yet been given. Understand that the baseline in many respects will start or will be what's in the reports. We want to know what happened as it relates to when she was transferred to the jail by the arresting officer.

We want to know what the people that booked her were told by the officer. We need to understand what happened to her once she was put in a jail cell and whether or not she was moved, and with what frequency she was moved. There are a whole host of things that when we look at the reports that we get from the sheriff, the reports that we get from the Texas Rangers, the reports that we get from the Department of Public Safety, and, for that matter, if the FBI has reports, what all of those reports say. QUESTION: Mr. Lambert, just to be clear on the reports that she told

the jailers there that she tried to take her own life, had there been any evidence or any instances that she ever tried to take her life?

LAMBERT: This family has no evidence that that is the case. None.

We know for a certainty that, when she went into the jail, she was ecstatic. She had just gotten to Texas the day before, and she was about to start a job. And she had gone grocery shopping and filled her refrigerator. She had left messages with her loved ones, and that just does not jibe with someone who would take her own life.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: One more question.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) Are you preparing a wrongful death lawsuit in this case?

LAMBERT: We are looking to have this investigation be completed in a thorough, complete and full-bodied way. And if a lawsuit comes out of that, so be it.

QUESTION: When will you get her cell phone back?

LAMBERT: Well, that's part of the investigation and we're looking for that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, everyone. Thank you. Thank you.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: You have been watching Cannon Lambert. He is the family attorney for the family of Sandra Bland.

Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

Breaking news in our national lead, obviously, we just heard from the family and attorney of Sandra Bland. Sandra Bland is of course the 28-year-old woman found dead in a Texas jail cell on July 13.

We're going to have here -- you're watching right now the dash cam video from the Texas Trooper who arrested her. He pulled her over, we're told, for failing to put on her turn signal. That traffic stop began a series of events that ended three days later when the African- American woman and vocal critic of police brutality was found dead in the Waller County, Texas, jail.

A medical examiner has ruled the death a suicide, but her family says there is no way that she committed suicide. They hired an independent medical examiner. Authorities are handling this as a murder investigation, which is routine in cases like this, according to officials.

We just heard from the sister of Sandra Bland.

Ed Lavandera is live for us in Waller County, Texas.

Ed, we heard the attorney for the Bland family refer to the jumps in the dash cam tape. The Texas Department of Public safety has just released a newer version of this tape. CNN is reviewing this for any differences. What can you tell us?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we have just finished reviewing much of that newly released videotape, and have not found any glitches. Everything seemed to be running smoothly on this new version that has been released.


But the controversy surrounding the release of this dash cam video really speaks, Jake, to the level of mistrust that exists throughout this case of Sandra Bland.


BRIAN ENCINIA, TEXAS STATE TROOPER: You mind putting out your cigarette, please? Do you mind?

SANDRA BLAND, DIED IN CUSTODY: I'm in my car. I don't have to put out my cigarette.

ENCINIA: Well, you can step on out now.

BLAND: I don't have to step out of my car.

ENCINIA: Step out of the car.

LAVANDERA (voice-over): From there, the traffic stop of 28-year-old Sandra Bland escalates into a heated showdown for nearly 10 more minutes. Texas State Trooper Brian Encinia tries to pull Bland from her car.


ENCINIA: I'm going to yank you out of here. Get out of car! I will light you up! Get out!




ENCINIA: Get out of the car!

BLAND: For a failure to signal?

LAVANDERA: Tensions rise as a bystander captures images of the trooper holding Bland to the ground. The dash cam caught what Bland is saying.

BLAND: You're a real man now. You slam me -- knock my head to the ground. I have got epilepsy, you mother (EXPLETIVE DELETED).

ENCINIA: Good. Good.

(CROSSTALK) LAVANDERA: Bland would spend the next three days in this jail cell.

Walker County officials say Bland tried several times to call family and friends from the jail, but she couldn't get help to post a bond, which was just over $500.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She had so many problems, that the jailers allowed her -- they would take her out of the cell and bring her to the booking desk and allow her to use the desk phone and make free phone calls. And that happened at least twice.

LAVANDERA: The arrest video does not shed light on Bland's death, but a nearly three-hour video recorded inside the jail the morning Bland was found dead shows no unusual activity around her cell in the hours leading up to her death.

The DPS trooper who made the arrest has been pulled from patrol duty. State officials say he did not handle the arrest professionally. The Sandra Bland case is buried under intense levels of mistrust. Bland family members don't believe she committed suicide. And the release of the arrest video didn't help cool those concerns.

Video glitches appeared on the tape, like this white car quickly disappearing and reappearing, made it appear the video was tampered with. Texas DPS officials say it was a technical malfunction and that the video was not edited. DPS officials have reposted the video. And nothing appears to have been edited out.

What started as a routine traffic stop erupted into a confounding roadside showdown and a death many refuse to believe is a suicide.


LAVANDERA: And, Jake, one of the things I don't think I heard from this press conference from the family of Sandra Bland there in Chicago was that they had been conducting their own independent autopsy.

It was possible that the results from that autopsy would be released today. I did not hear anything in that press conference a short while ago, Jake, saying that they had received those results or if they would be releasing what that second autopsy shows.

TAPPER: All right, Ed Lavandera, thank you so much.

Joining me now is Elton Mathis. He's district attorney for Waller County, Texas.

Mr. Mathis, thank you so much for joining us. Appreciate it.

Sandra Bland was pulled over for failing to signal, and obviously matters escalated from there. Did the trooper have the right to tell Bland to get out of her car, and then to pull her out of the vehicle when she didn't comply?

ELTON MATHIS, DISTRICT ATTORNEY, WALLER COUNTY, TEXAS: This case, the stop on Ms. Bland, one of the things that has caused confusion in this case -- and I'm going to answer your question, but I'm going to not answer your question -- is because, this morning, when we found out there were issues with the video, I decided we're going to stop at this point.

And I'm not going to make any more judgments on that traffic stop until I have a report from the Federal Bureau of Investigations that I have a good video. I need to see -- I need confirmation that the video is good. And I also want to wait and want to reserve judgment until I see what's going to be on Ms. Bland's cell phone.

She's holding her cell phone in the video. It appears that she's recording. I need to know what, if anything, she was recording, if she was texting, if she was e-mailing, and if there's any video between she -- her interaction and the trooper.

So, I know you want an answer to the question, but I'm not going to make an assessment on whether that -- taking her out of the car was proper or improper until I have as much information as possible.

TAPPER: Well, if we could talk then theoretically in terms of troopers in your part of the country, is it appropriate, do you think, for a trouper to tell somebody that they're going to light her up if she doesn't get out of the car? Is that appropriate behavior?

MATHIS: That would be a decision based upon what he was observing inside the car, his own personal safety concerns.

And those are things that I don't have yet. I need to have that information before I second-guess him.

[16:15:03] TAPPER: What about if somebody is thrown down on the ground for whatever reason and is being forced down on the ground and says I have epilepsy, motherf-er? Is it appropriate for the trooper to say good? Is that appropriate?

MATHIS: No, that is totally inappropriate. I concur with the Department of Public Safety's determination that that shouldn't have happened.

TAPPER: You're obviously trying to be transparent with the release of the video, and I appreciate is the difficult spot you find yourself. Some family members of Sandra Bland, as you may have heard from her older sister, Sharon Cooper, say that the video is only prompting more questions and creating more distrust. Ms. Cooper said after watching the video she felt the officer's ego was bruised. He never once was threatened business her sister, but it escalated to the degree it did.

Can you understand though, why, even though you are trying to be transparent, this is raising more concerns, seeing this video?

MATHIS: It did. I completely understand that, and I agree. The first time I watched the video, I was disappointed in what I saw from the trooper. I concur with the department, and I was also disappointed in ms. Bland's behavior, but in that respect, as a trouper, as public servants, we don't have a right to be offended and we don't have a right for people to like us.

So, in that respect, when I did watch the video and I saw the trooper's behavior, I was disappointed.

TAPPER: Let me ask you a question that I think some of the members would be interested in your answering if not about this specific case but in general -- do you think blacks and whites are treated equally in Waller County --


TAPPER: -- by law enforcement?

MATHIS: That hits close to home.

By law enforcement -- yes, I do. By my office, I do. In fact, one of the things that I find -- let me take a step back and interject this. And I want to say that I completely understand why the bland family and why the nation itself sees this situation as extremely suspicious.

We're dealing with a young woman who had devoted her life to the cause of African-American suffering, African-Americans broadband picked on by law enforcement. The irony of her winding up dead in a small jail in the south part of the United States is not lost on me at all. I acknowledge that. I understand why that appears to be suspicious. We are taking a hard look at Ms. Bland's death.

To the extent too I believe that African-Americans in Waller County are treated disparately, I'll acknowledge in the past they were. We had some major issues 10, 20 years ago.

But there's a new generation, and I include myself in that, that's in control in county government. In fact, my office established the first hate crimes task force for the region that we live in, so that African-Americans, minorities, the gay and lesbian community, would have a champion in a district attorney's office in our part of the south that they could go to when they felt like they were not being appropriately cared for by the criminal justice system.

TAPPER: OK. All right. We appreciate your time, District Attorney Elton Mathis, thank you so much.

MATHIS: Thank you so much.

TAPPER: The world lead now, selling the deal. Right now, Secretary of State John Kerry is up on Capitol Hill. He's working to convince a skeptical Congress that a proposed plan will keep Iran from building a nuclear bomb, but the deal on the table does not include a plan to bring back Americans being held unjustly by that regime. The angry reaction from the family members, and we'll talk to a leading senator, next.


[16:23:05] TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

Tapping our world lead today, Secretary of State Kerry is on Capitol Hill right now, trying to hard to sell the proposed nuclear deal with Iran to skeptical members of Congress. Kerry says the deal would stop Iran from getting a nuclear bomb, and would make the world a safer place.

Joining me to talk about this nuclear pact is Democratic Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey, who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Senator Menendez, thanks so much for being here.

You're about to head into a classified briefing with Secretary Kerry about the nuclear deal. I know you have serious concerns about it. Speaker Boehner this afternoon said he would do everything possible to stop this agreement. Are you with him in that goal?

SEN. ROBERT MENENDEZ (D), NEW JERSEY: Well, first of all, I'm in search of answers to some very serious questions, and how those questions get answers is going to determine my ultimate vote. But I have serious concerns in the readings that I've had of the agreement with Iran, in the way I've read the Security Council resolution, which, for example, doesn't have the continuing prohibition against Iran on missile technology, but it just calls upon Iran not to pursue that. In the past, it says Iran shall not do that.

Now, there's a difference between a prohibition and just saying to the Iranians, well, we really call upon you not to do that. That's a significant give, if that's the case, as it relates to that element of the arms embargo. I don't have a clear answer after having read the documents as to the way in which the International Atomic Energy Administration is going to determine the militarization efforts that Iran lead, so that we now how far they got along in that respect.

It seems to me that the sanctions, as I understand it, are going to largely take place within, you know, a year, they're going to get most of the money.

[16:25:00] So, what plan -- why, number one, didn't we stagger that as Iran's obligations are in the out years, and why didn't we ultimately -- what plan do we have to deal if Iran gets that money with all of its regional conflicts? Those are some of the issues.

TAPPER: Senator, do you think that the administration got rolled? Do you think that they're naive? What's your take on why they are pushing so hard for this agreement?

MENENDEZ: Well, look, I think, you know, as Tom Friedman said in his column, maybe this is the best bad deal that can be achieved. But the problem is that the underlying element of that is that it's a bad deal. In the drive to get an agreement, we are not ending Iran's nuclear program. We are preserving it for the most part in the out years.

We'll face the challenge of an Iran if it hasn't changed its stripes in the last 20 years, in 10 or 12 years when they can break out, but the sanctioning will have largely been relieved. They will have gotten $100 billion, $100 billion. They get pursue greater regional conflict. They have a greater defensive posture, and then our choice, what is it?

TAPPER: Right.

MENENDEZ: To try to snap back the sanctions you say won't work now to stop them from pursuing that goal?

So, it seems to me that if I'm going to meet an adversary, I want to meet them at their weakest, not when they're stronger.

TAPPER: I hear you.

Senator, I'm being told you are being given the hook. You have to go meet with Secretary of State John Kerry. So, thanks so much for joining us. We appreciate it.

MENENDEZ: Thank you. All right.

TAPPER: A major concern echoed by critics of the nuclear deal is that this deal does not require the immediate release of all Americans held or missing in Iran, one of them, "Washington Post" reporter Jason Rezaian, who was imprisoned one year ago today on what many believe to be trumped up charges of espionage. Rezaian, a dual U.S.-Iranian citizen has been tried in a secret court and if he's convicted, he faces 20 more years behind bars.

In a news conference earlier today, his brother Ali pleaded for his release.


ALI REZAIAN, BROTHER OF DETAINED JOURNALIST: During this time, he's been subjected to months of interrogation, isolation and threats. He's been deprived of basic medical attention, exacerbating minor medical issues and risking permanent physical harm.


TAPPER: Let's get right to CNN global affairs correspondent Elise Labott, who's been watching this case closely.

Elise, what steps, if any, are U.S. officials taking to help secure the safe return of these four Americans.

ELISE LABOTT, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, the Obama administration maintained all along that tying the fate of the four Americans to the nuclear negotiations would not help bring them home, but now that deal is done, the families say it is time for the U.S. to step up the pressure.


LABOTT (voice-over): Tonight, Secretary of State John Kerry arrived for a closed-door, high-stakes briefing, trying to sell the Iran nuclear deal to a skeptical Congress.

JOHN KERRY, SECRETARY OF STATE: It will make the region or friends and allies safer. It will make the world safer. LABOTT: But that may not be enough to convince skeptical lawmakers, worried the deal will embolden Iran to wreak new havoc in the Middle East, and angry four Americans are being left behind, including "Washington Post" reporter Jason Rezaian.

KERRY: We are working very hard on it.

LABOTT: It's been exactly one year since Rezaian was arrested on spy charges and thrown in Iran's notorious Evin prison.


LABOTT: Today, his family and employers at "The Washington Post" made another plea for his release, this time calling on the United Nations to step in.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No evidence has been produced of espionage or any other offense. All he did was work diligently and fairly as a journalist.

LABOTT: Rezaian, a dual U.S./Iranian national, reported on the culture and daily life of the Iranian people. He spoke with CNN's Anthony Bourdain last year, shortly before his arrest.

JASON REZAIAN, THE WASHINGTON POST: I love it and I hate it, you know? But it's home. It's become home.

LABOTT: Ali Rezaian feels his brother feels his case got caught off in the nuclear talks, but now that the deal is done, he hopes the Iranians will send his brother home.

ALI REZAIAN, BROTHER OF DETAINED JOURNALIST: Certainly the right thing would have been to do is release him long ago. The right thing to do now is release him now because he's innocent.

LABOTT: President Obama under fire for striking the deal while Rezaian and two other Americans are still being held, a fourth American missing. Tension was on full display when a report asked about their fate.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The notion that I am content as I celebrate with American citizens languishing in Iranian jails, Major, that's nonsense.

LABOTT: This week, the president once again promised to spare no effort --

OBAMA: We are not going to relent until we bring home our Americans who are unjustly detained in Iran. Journalist Jason Rezaian should be released.


LABOTT: And Secretary Kerry says he brings up the Americans' cases in every meeting he has what the Iranians, even in the final minutes before the deal was announced.