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The Sandra Bland mugshot conspiracy debunked

The alleged "corpse mugshot"

The Twitterverse has been exploding in recent hours with allegations being made that the mugshot of Sandra Bland, who authorities claim hanged herself inside her jail cell after a controversial arrest in Texas on July 20, is not really a mugshot at all- but was taken after she was murdered by police. Many proponents of this theory allege that Bland's corpse was "posed", and then digitally manipulated or enhanced to make it appear as though she were alive.

Unfortunately, this conspiracy is difficult to debunk or confirm with so little that is presently known about Bland's death (which was ruled a suicide after her autopsy). What's worse is that very few "sources" in regards to the mugshot photo are unbiased, with those denying the conspiracy being labeled as racists, and those alleging a conspiracy labeled as race-baiters. Since we have no political or social biases when it comes to investigating the strange and unusual, we've decided to throw our hat into the ring and see if we can solve the mystery of Sandra Bland's reportedly faked mugshot based solely on scientific and forensic grounds.

First, let's address the most popular claims about the photo in question.

The alleged "doctored" mugshot

1. Why was Sandra Bland wearing prison garb for the mug shot? Wouldn't she have been photographed in her street clothes?

Very rarely are new arrivals photographed as soon as they walk in the door. The intake procedure usually begins with forcing the inmate to remove all personal items (jewelry, cellphones, etc.) and then making them take a shower, using a delousing product or disinfectant in order to prevent the possible spread of germs or lice to other inmates. After being instructed to provide a urine sample, inmates are issued uniforms while their street clothes and personal belongings are packed and placed into storage. It is usually at this point when inmates are photographed and fingerprinted.

The main factor is whether or not the arrested party was photographed by the police department or by the county jail. Naturally, arrested persons whose mugshots are taken at the police station are wearing street clothes. In just about every case in which a mugshot was taken in a correctional facility, the inmates are indeed wearing "prison garb". This would suggest that Bland's clothing is not a factor in determining whether or not she was already dead at the time she was photographed.

2. Why are the locks of her hair descending backwards, as though she is laying down, rather than standing up? If she was standing up,  shouldn't her locks should be hanging straight down?

Inconclusive. After searching through hundreds of pictures on Google Images of people with similar hairstyles, we came across examples of dreadlocked hair falling in the "wrong" direction on persons standing up, as well as examples of hair falling in the "right" direction on persons lying down. Since Bland had to have been directed to wash her hair during the intake procedure, this would certainly influence the way her hair appeared. Since these details are unknown, this argument is invalid.

3. Why do her eyes appear vacant?

In a press conference earlier today, the D.A. for Waller County admitted that Ms. Bland was found to have marijuana in her system. Although the toxicology report has not been released, this would have been easy to determine, since new inmates are instructed to provide urine samples during the intake procedure. Use of drugs would certainly account for her expression, and it still remains to be seen whether or not Bland had other drugs in her system. Another possibility is that Ms. Bland was simply being uncooperative with the jail's photographer, as she had been with the Texas trooper who arrested her. Since Ms. Bland had marijuana in her system and had been shown to be uncooperative to authorities (as evidenced in the police dashcam footage), it seems far more likely that these two possibilites are far more likely than the possibility of a staged photo with a corpse.

4. The collagen, fat, and skin all seem to fall backwards, rather than down. Wouldn't this seem to indicate that she is laying down?

From the "second" mugshot (which some claim is the true undoctored original), it does seem that her skin is falling somewhat backwards. However, this in itself is not concrete evidence since we've been able to find several pictures of corpses in a flat position in which the skin does not appear to fall backwards at all.

Our impression is that Ms. Bland appears to be more emaciated than she appears to be laid flat. Sources from within the correctional facility claim that she refused to eat during her 3-day jail stay. This might suggest that the picture in question was not taken on the day of her arrival at the jail, but possibly a few days later.

But, finally, we must remember that rigor mortis sets in 2-6 hours after death. By the time her body was discovered, it wouldve been impossible for her face to "droop" at this point. If the mugshot is really a picture of a corpse, it would've had to have been taken minutes after she died. Since the very same "undoctored" photo fails to show any injuries or signs of trauma, the evidence falls more in favor of her being alive at the time the photo was taken.

5. The gray background suggests she was photographed on the floor rather than standing against a wall.

This argument is easy to debunk, since we've been able to find other Waller County mugshots in which the inmate appears before a similar background. The following mugshot for instance, is of James Harper Howell (who, coincidentally, hanged himself inside the Waller County jail). His mugshot features the same gray backdrop as well as "prison garb".

Waller County mugshot of James Harper Howell

What tell-tale signs of death would there be if she really was dead?

 Assuming that Bland's death was caused by asphyxiation, there would be several tell-tale signs evident in the "corpse" mugshot. If she had been smothered to death, we would see cyanosis of the face, with a possible whitening of the nose and mouth, which clearly isn't the case. If she had been strangled or choked by hand by the authorities (as some conspiracy theorists suggest), there would certainly be defensive wounds indicating a struggle, such as scratches, nail marks, laceration of soft facial tissue, or bruising to the mouth and nose. None of these details appear in the photo, nor are they mentioned in the autopsy.

Asphyxial signs are severe and easily identified, because death in this manner is slow and takes between 3 and 5 minutes (according to If the mugshot was of a corpse, the head and face would show intense congestion-- not an emaciated appearance. There would also be numerous petechial hemorrhages present from broke blood vessels. These are also absent from the picture.

Example of facial petechiae

In fact, the only time these symptoms are absent is when asphyxiation is caused by exposure to suffocation by gas. As far as we know, Waller County jail does not possess a gas chamber.

Other tell-tale signs include a blood-tinged frothy fluid present in air passages. If there was a cover-up in the same manner as described by some of Sandra Bland's supporters, jail officials would have had to physically clean Bland's face, remove her street clothes and put her in prison garb, prop her up against the same color wall that appears in other Waller County jail mugshots, and then take her picture. By this time, rigor mortis would have set in and it wouldve been impossible to pose her in a realistic manner.

In conclusion, we can say with 99% certainty that Sandra Bland was alive at the time her mugshot was taken. The only possible way that she would not have been alive would be if her cause of death was not the result of asphyxiation, but by some other method. The official autopsy confirms this cause of death and until further evidence proves otherwise, there is absolutely zero scientific or forensic proof that the mugshot was of a corpse.

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