Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Who Killed Sandra Bland in Texas and Why?: The Ongoing Investigation of Her Tragic Death


Texas Trooper Who Arrested Sandra Bland Is Indicted on Perjury Charge
January 6, 2016
New York Times

PHOTO: An image from a police dashboard camera shows Trooper Brian T. Encinia arresting Sandra Bland after a traffic stop in Prairie View, Tex., in July. Credit Andy Alfaro/Texas Department of Public Safety, via Associated Press

HEMPSTEAD, Tex. — The state trooper who arrested Sandra Bland, the Chicago-area woman who three days later was found hanged in her cell at the Waller County jail, has been indicted on a perjury charge, a special prosecutor said here Wednesday.

The charge against the Texas state trooper, Brian T. Encinia, is a Class A misdemeanor, and was announced at the end of a day of grand jury deliberations. The charge carries a possible penalty of one year in jail and a $4,000 fine, prosecutors said.

The charge stemmed from a one-page affidavit that Trooper Encinia filed with jail officials justifying the arrest of Ms. Bland, who was pulled over in a routine traffic stop in Prairie View, northwest of Houston, for failing to use her turn signal. Ms. Bland, 28, who was black, was returning to Texas in July to take a job at her alma mater, Prairie View A&M.

The trooper wrote that he removed Ms. Bland from her car in order to conduct a safe traffic investigation, but “the grand jury found that statement to be false,” a special prosecutor, Shawn McDonald, said.

Graphic: Assessing the Legality of Sandra Bland’s Arrest
A video released by Texas officials confirms accounts of a physical confrontation between Ms. Bland and a state trooper. But her arrest and cause of death remain in dispute.

OPEN Graphic

A police dashboard-camera video of the episode, however, shows an escalating confrontation after Ms. Bland refuses Trooper Encinia’s request to put out a cigarette. At one point, Trooper Encinia says he will forcibly remove her from her car and threatens Ms. Bland with a Taser, saying, “I will light you up.”

The question of criminal charges against Trooper Encinia was believed to be the last major issue before the Waller County grand jury, which began its investigation in August, special prosecutors Darrell Jordan and Lewis White told reporters outside the Waller County Courthouse earlier on Wednesday. Earlier, the grand jury declined to indict any of Ms. Bland’s jailers in connection with her death on July 13, effectively sustaining the medical examiner’s ruling of suicide.

Ms. Bland’s family, which has filed a wrongful-death suit, has expressed frustration and disappointment with the grand jury, saying Waller County officials have failed to keep them informed about its progress. Cannon Lambert, the family’s attorney, has called it a “sham of a process.” The Waller County district attorney, Elton Mathis, appointed an independent panel of five lawyers, including Mr. Jordan and Mr. White, to oversee the investigation.

Related Coverage:

The Videos That Are Putting Race and Policing Into Sharp Relief

“We’re just going to finish what we started,” Mr. Jordan said. “Our goal in this process is justice. Whatever that might be.”

About 25 protesters gathered in front of the courthouse, demanding that Trooper Encinia be fired immediately and indicted for making an unlawful arrest.

“Officer Encinia should not get off, “ said Jinaki Muhammad of Houston, national vice-co-chair of women’s affairs for the National Black United Front. “He escalated the situation.”

Ms. Bland’s death has fueled a national debate over the treatment of blacks by white law enforcement officers. Her family and a number of black leaders, including those in the Texas Legislature, have questioned the finding of suicide and denounced Ms. Bland’s treatment at the hands of the Texas criminal justice system, from the time of her arrest until she was found dead in her jail cell.
The family’s lawsuit — filed in federal court in Houston and scheduled for trial in January 2017 — claims that Ms. Bland should never have been arrested and accuses Trooper Encinia of making up a reason to arrest her. It also claims that Ms. Bland, who told jail officials of a previous suicide attempt, was not given proper supervision by jail officials.
Trooper Encinia, who joined the state police force in 2014, was placed on administrative duty after Ms. Bland’s death as her supporters called for his resignation. The director of the Department of Public Safety, Steven McCraw, under sharp questioning at a legislative inquiry in July, said that Trooper Encinia violated department policy, behaved rudely and failed to de-escalate a confrontational situation.

The inquiry was led by Garnet Coleman, a state representative from Houston, who said the arrest was “the catalyst” for Ms. Bland’s death. “What he did triggered the whole thing,” Mr. Coleman said of Trooper Encinia.

Ms. Bland was found hanged with a plastic trash can liner by a jailer who looked into the cell to ask if she wanted to go a recreational room. Jail officials have drawn repeated criticism for not placing Ms. Bland on suicide watch and for permitting the plastic trash can liner to be in her cell.