A Black Woman's Suspicious Death In an Alabama Jail Is Igniting Controversy

July 22nd 2015

Kyle Jaeger

Alabama authorities and family members of Kindra Chapman announced Thursday that the confirmed cause of death of the 18-year-old—found hanged in an Alabama, jail cell on July 14—was suicide. In a statement, the Chapman family thanked supporters and expressed grief over the loss but said that earlier claims that cited police brutality as a potential cause of death were incorrect. 

“We want the world to know what a wonderful soul she was,” the statement reads. “At the same time, we want the world to know that her death was a suicide. We have hired lawyers to investigate how this could have happened while she was in police custody.” 

For family members and others who were close to Chapman, only video evidence could provide the necessary closure to what initially appeared to be an unclear incident that left one young woman dead. That evidence—along with witness statements—was offered by law enforcement officials on Thursday. 

Chapman was found dead with a bed sheet tied around her neck—less than two hours after she was processed for arrest. She had been booked at the Homewood City Jail in Homewood, Alabama, on suspicion of robbery.

Authorities determined that Chapman died from self-inflicted asphyxiation, but friends and family of the woman have adamantly rejected that report, arguing that she was not suicidal and had an extensive support system she could fall back on if she ran into trouble.

Barely a day had passed since the death of Sandra Bland when Chapman was pronounced dead under eerily similar circumstances. Both were young, Black women who died in jail cells; both had family members who expressed doubts about official accounts; and both have become important figures in the Black Lives Matter movement, as their stories have appeared on social media feeds and roused activists to protest.

Chapman's mother, Kathy Brady, believes that police killed her daughter. She told AL.com that the department did not contact her about the incident until 9:00 p.m.

Jeffery County District Attorney Brandon Falls added that he was fully prepared to release preliminary findings related to the police investigation into Chapman's death, but felt it would be inappropriate to do so until he heard back from members of the woman's family.

According to AL.com, "Falls said his office has received the reports of the offense that led to Chapman's arrest, the reports from the officers on duty at the time of death, and the reports of the investigating detective." The DA also said he was in possession of video surveillance recordings from multiple cameras operated by the jail and a witness statement who was also in custody on the night that Chapman was arrested.

On Tuesday, Black Lives Matter advocates staged a protest outside Homewood City Jail in an effort to raise public attention to Chapman's suspicious death. Some wore bed sheet around their necks to signal their distrust of reports that say Chapman hanged herself.

The Homewood Police Department released a statement the same day regarding their move to forward all records to Falls. "The members of the Homewood Police Department express our condolences to the family of Miss Chapman," the department wrote.

4:45 p.m. Thursday: This story was updated to include additional information about the case of Kindra Chapman. 
This story first published at 1:06 p.m. on July 22.