Ex-Trooper Pleads ‘Not Guilty’ in Bland Case
A fired Texas trooper pleaded not guilty Tuesday to a charge of misdemeanor perjury stemming from his arrest last summer of Sandra Bland, a black woman who was later found dead in a county jail.
During a brief appearance before a Waller County judge, Brian Encinia entered his plea as protesters gathered outside of the courthouse in Hempstead, roughly 50 miles northwest of Houston.
One held a sign that read: “What happened to Sandra Bland?”
About 20 to 25 protesters yelled “Tell the truth” and “Sandra still speaks,” and at one point directed their chanting at Waller County Sheriff Glenn Smith who stood nearby speaking with reporters. Bland’s arrest, which was captured on a police dash-camera video, provoked national outrage and drew the attention of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Encinia’s attorney, Larkin Eakin, said after Tuesday’s arraignment that the perjury charge “represents a fundamental misunderstanding of law enforcement procedures.” He said Encinia acted properly during the July 2015 traffic stop and subsequent arrest of Bland.
A county grand jury indicted Encinia in January on the perjury charge for saying in an affidavit that he removed a combative Bland from her car after stopping her near Houston for a minor traffic violation so he could conduct a safer traffic investigation.
Video of the stop shows Encinia drawing his stun gun and telling Bland, “I will light you up!” She can later be heard off-camera screaming that he’s about to break her wrists and complaining that he knocked her head into the ground.
Encinia’s affidavit stated he “removed her from her vehicle to further conduct a safer traffic investigation,” but grand jurors found that statement to be false, according to prosecutors.
Bland was taken to the Waller County jail in Hempstead and was found hanging from a jail cell partition three days later. A plastic garbage bag was around her neck.
A medical examiner ruled it a suicide. A grand jury declined to charge any sheriff’s officials or jailers in the death.
Bland’s relatives have filed a wrongful death lawsuit, and members of her family were in the courtroom Tuesday.
“I want an opportunity to allow accountability to be shown,” said Bland’s mother, Geneva Reed-Veal, a Chicago-area resident. “I want answers as to what happened to my daughter, but I still want it to happen in God’s way.”