Brian Encinia pulled over Sandra Bland on July 10 of last year for making an improper lane change. The Texas trooper initiated a routine stop of the 28-year-old Chicago woman, who had just interviewed and accepted a position at A&M University, her alma mater. Things quickly turned confrontational, and three days later, Sandra Bland was found hanging in her jail cell with a plastic bag around her neck.
Trooper Brian Encinia has now been charged with a crime – but the end result has been dubbed “bittersweet” by Bland’s family. A grand jury had already declined to charge Encinia or any officials at the Waller County jail with her death, and although Encinia is facing a wrongful death lawsuit from Bland’s family, he was ultimately found guilty of only perjury in his police report. The Texas Department of Public Safety said they have begun “termination proceedings” against Brian Encinia.
Writes The Associated Press on Jan. 6: “Bland’s arrest and death — which authorities ruled a suicide — provoked national outrage and drew the attention of the Black Lives Matter movement. Protesters linked Bland to other black suspects who were killed in confrontations with police or died in police custody, including Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and Freddie Gray in Baltimore.”
Dashcam video shows Encinia approaching Bland’s passenger window and explaining the reason for pulling her over. After gathering her identification, he returns a few minutes later to her driver’s side window to serve her with a warning only.
“Are you okay? You seem very irritated,” Encinia says. Bland tells Encinia that she saw him speeding up behind her, so she moved over to get out of his way, failing to use her signal. “Yeah I am irritated, but that doesn’t stop you from giving me a ticket,” Bland says in response. “Are you done?” Encinia asks. “You asked me what was wrong and I told you, so now I’m done yeah,” she says.
For some reason, Encinia then instructs Bland to put out her cigarette – with Bland refusing to do so – telling the trooper that she’s in her car and doesn’t have to. Encinia demands she step out of the car and Bland again refuses. Encinia opens her door and tells her to either step out or he will “remove” her. “I will yank you out of here!” he says as she continues to protest. “I will light you up,” he screams, drawing his Taser.
The pair argue off camera about the fact she has her phone out to record him. Bland sets her phone down on her trunk, but still refuses to cooperate and turn around to put her hands behind her back, using vulgarity and repeatedly asking Encinia if he “feels good about himself” for what he is doing. As the sound of handcuffs are being applied, Bland tells Encinia that she “cannot wait to go to court.”
Bland tells Encinia that he slammed her head into the ground and that he has epilepsy. “Good!” comes Encinia’s response. A female officer is heard assisting. “You’re going to jail for resisting arrest,” he says as she sobs and screams at him.
Encinia wrote in his report that Bland was “combative and uncooperative,” and while the video would support that, the trooper also wrote that he “removed her from her vehicle to further conduct a safer traffic investigation.” Grand jurors “found that statement to be false,” commented special prosecutor Shawn McDonald.
The perjury charge is a misdemeanor; Encinia faces up to one year in jail and a maximum fine of $4,000.
“We have always felt from the onset, from our viewing of the dashcam video, is what happened to Sandy was largely impacted by the fatal encounter that she had with Officer Encinia,” said Sandra Bland’s sister Sharon Cooper. “Our family’s grieving process is at a standstill.”
Bland, a self-styled activist, spoke openly of race relations and surging police brutality in the U.S. through a series of Facebook posts and videos called “Sandy Speaks.”
“Based on the history of America, it is not good when it comes to black and white people,” she said in a post shortly before her arrest. “But I want to try and get past that.”
She also wrote about her own difficulties. “I’m suffering from something that some of you all may be dealing with right now. It’s a little bit of depression, as well as PTSD,” she in a video post from March. “I’ve been really stressed out over these past couple of weeks, but that does not excuse me not keeping my promise to you all by letting you all know that somebody cares about you, somebody loves you, and that you can go out there and do great things.”
Larkin Eakin, trooper Encinia’s lawyer, said he spoke to his client after the indictment. “His reaction was he’s not guilty,” Eakin said, according to the NY Times. “When you’re not guilty, you don’t expect to be indicted.”
What are your thoughts on the indictment of trooper Brian Encinia?