When Former Texas Department of Public Safety Trooper Brian Encinia pulled Sandra Bland over after she failed to signal a lane change in Waller County on July 21, 2015, Encinia claimed that Bland's behavior made him think she might hurt him.
The exchange between Bland, 28, and on her way to start a new job at Prairie View A&M University, and Encinia quickly escalated and Bland was arrested on suspicion of assaulting a public servant. She was found hanging in her jail cell in Waller County three days later.
The dash-cam video of the exchange between Encinia and Bland, released shortly after her death, became the fission point that exploded into national outrage as it quickly became apparent that the officer report Encinia had filed about the incident bore little resemblance to what actually played out between the trooper and Bland that day in July.
Now, it has been found that Encinia — who was fired from DPS over how he handled the incident,indicted on a perjury charge that was ultimately dropped, but who has yet to publicly explain his actions that day — made other missteps that day, such as failing to tell Bland what action he was going to take or why she was being arrested once the situation between the two got tense, according to a DPS use-of-force report obtained by KXAN.
Encinia spoke to the DPS Inspector General in three different interviews in the wake of Bland's arrest and death and the controversy of her treatment by Encinia. The interviews occurred three months after Bland's death, in February 2016 after he was indicted on a perjury charge, and in June 2017 after he agreed to take a plea deal. During each interview Encinia still claimed he had believed he was in danger during the heated exchange with Bland.
"My safety was in jeopardy at more than one time,” said Encinia, during an interview by the agency’s Office of Inspector General, when asked if he was scared during the traffic stop.
The former trooper claimed he was frightened of Bland and thought she might do or produce "something" — it doesn't get more specific than a basic fear of weapons or drugs — from either her purse or the console of her car.
"I had a feeling that anything could've been either retrieved or hidden within her area of control," he stated at another interview. "My primary concern was with that purse, with her console, as far as being any kinds of weapons or drugs or, it’s unknown to me. I don't know what happened, but something did, and to me that was the reasonable suspicion.”
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But what really makes this troubling is that Encinia acknowledges in these interviews that he didn't follow up on his feelings of unease by either asking Bland what she was doing or ordering her out of the car, options that might have helped diffuse the situation. Instead, when Bland refused to put out her cigarette, the trooper ordered Bland out of her car, flung open her car door and said "I will light you up."
And when asked why he didn't explain what was going on or try to calm the situation by telling Bland she would only receive a warning (Encinia had pulled her over partly because he believed she had run a stop sign, even though he admits in these interviews that he wasn't even sure if the sign was located on public property that would merit a ticket), he had no explanation.
"I think things could've been handled differently, yes sir. I still did have a concern for the area of her control that I didn't know what was there, but I do agree that things could've been done differently," he said during the interviews.