Grand Jury Indicts Trooper Who Arrested Sandra Bland
Update 6:15 p.m.: Shortly after Encinia was indicted by the grand jury, the Texas Department of Public Safety said today in a press release that it would "begin termination proceedings to discharge him from the department."
A Waller County grand jury has decided to charge the state trooper who arrested Sandra Bland with perjury, a class A misdemeanor, KRIV first reported earlier today.
In July, trooper Brian Encinia pulled over Bland's vehicle near Prairie View A&M University for an alleged improper lane change, and the traffic stop soon turned confrontational. Dash cam footage shows the trooper threatening Bland with a taser before attempting to physically force the out of her car. Bland was arrested and brought to Waller County Jail, and even though she indicated on a booking sheet that she had recently attempted suicide, she was not placed on suicide watch. Bland's body was found hanging in her cell three days later. In late July, the Harris County Medical Examiner's office ruled her death a suicide. She was 28-years old.
According to the Houston Chronicle, Encinia was charged because of statements he made in his report of the arrest about pulling Bland out of her vehicle to "further conduct a safe traffic investigation."
"They just didn't believe it," special prosecutor Darrell Jordan told the Chron. "A warrant will be issued and we'll go from there."
In the affidavit for Bland's arrest, Encinia wrote that Bland "became combative and uncooperative" and refused to leave her car. Encinia wrote that Bland then "was removed" from the car, but became "more combative," so he handcuffed her. According to Encinia, Bland began swinging her elbows and kicked Encinia in the shin, and "force was used to subdue Bland to the ground" as she continued to "fight back.
Dash cam footage shows Bland still seated in the vehicle as Encinia attempts to yank her out, pulls out what appears to be a taser, and shouts "I will light you up!" at Bland. At no point in the dash cam video does Bland appear to "kick" Encinia or physically "fight back." Following Bland's death, the Texas Department of Safety said Encinia violated agency procedures during the traffic stop, and placed him on administrative duty. If Encinia is convicted of perjury he could face a $4,000 fine and a year in jail.
Bland's death sparked international protests, investigations by multiple law enforcement agencies, and the formation of the Waller County grand jury. The grand jury met once already in December and no-billed Waller County officials, but Jordan indicated to the Chron at the time that there was a possibility charges would be filed when the group reconvened in January, presumably to examine Encinia's actions during the arrest.
Separately, Waller County Jail was cited by the Texas Commission on Jail Standards in July for substandard training in how to handle potentially suicidal inmates, and for failing to personally observe an inmate at least once per hour. The jail was also cited in 2012 for violating the 60-minute observation standard after an inmate was found hanging by a bed sheet.
Encinia and Waller County officials could still face civil penalties. In August, Bland's mother Geneva Reed-Veal filed a wrongful death lawsuit in federal court against Encinia, the Texas Department of Safety, and Waller County. According to the Associated Press, the family filed the lawsuit only after officials failed to provide enough information about the circumstances of Bland's death. The case is set to go to trial in January 2017.
Here's the statement Encinia wrote for the affidavit of Bland's arrest:
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