Sandra Bland’s Mom Speaks Out On Case: ‘Not Justice’
A video showing a white Texas state trooper shouting “I will light you up” while pulling a black woman from her car brought national outrage, troubling the woman’s family, the trooper’s boss and, perhaps, even a grand jury.
But as Sandra Bland’s mother fumed Thursday over Texas Department of Public Safety Trooper Brian Encinia being only indicted on a misdemeanor charge of perjury, the outcome was less surprising to some legal experts and civil rights groups who for months have cautioned that while the dashcam footage might show bad policing, it’s not necessarily felony misconduct.
Bland, a 28-year-old former resident of Naperville, Illinois, was found dead in her jail cell three days after the confrontational July traffic stop on the outskirts of Houston. Authorities say Bland hanged herself with a garbage bag, and the same grand jury in December declined to charge anyone in her death.
Bland’s family and activists in the Black Lives Matter movement argue justice slipped away again with the relatively light charges brought against Encinia. If convicted of the perjury charge, he faces a maximum of one year in jail and a $4,000 fine.
“To charge this guy with a misdemeanor, are you kidding me?” Bland’s mother, Geneva Reed-Veal, said during a news conference in Chicago. “I’m angry, absolutely. … That’s not justice for me.”
DPS announced shortly after Wednesday’s indictment that Encinia would be fired.
Encinia surrendered Thursday afternoon at the Waller County Jail and was freed a short time later after posting a $2,500 bond. He was processed in the same room where Bland was booked last summer, a 45-minute process that included taking a mug shot, getting fingerprinted and getting medical and mental screenings.
Encinia pulled over Bland for not signaling a lane change near the campus of Prairie View A&M University. Video shows the trooper being calm and courteous toward Bland until she questions his order to put out a cigarette. From there the traffic stop quickly escalates into a physical and verbal confrontation, with Encinia at one point drawing his stun gun while trying to make her get out of the car.
Bland 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.
Bland’s mother said she had little confidence in the prospect of a conviction and that Encinia should have been charged with assault, battery and false arrest. Prosecutors have declined to say what other charges the grand jury may have considered, citing the secrecy of the proceedings.
But to some outside legal observers, the video is not so clear-cut.
“I don’t like what I heard on there. I would be very surprised if DPS didn’t wince when they saw that video,” said Phillip Lyons, director of the College of Criminal Justice at Sam Houston State University. “But when it comes to outlining a specific felonious offense, I don’t see it.”
Rebecca Robertson, legal and policy director of the ACLU of Texas, said that while other evidence of misconduct may have happened off-camera, “It’s difficult to say that the video documents clear evidence of a crime. It documents evidence of some civil rights concerns, but I don’t know that we see all of the physical interaction action between the two.”
DPS has fired more than two dozen troopers since 2013. That includes several who were let go after also being arrested or charged, including for allegations of drunken driving and drug possession. At least four were also discharged on grounds of “truthfulness.”
DPS Director Steve McCraw has publicly stated for months that Encinia violated traffic stop procedures. Records obtained by The Associated Press show that DPS has upheld at least six formal complaints filed against troopers since 2012 for their conduct during traffic stops. Two troopers received written reprimands and the others received suspensions ranging from one to 30 days without pay.
Encinia was indicted on allegations that he lied when he claimed in an affidavit that Bland was “combative and uncooperative” after he pulled her over during the traffic stop and ordered her out of her car. Encinia wrote in his affidavit that he had Bland exit the vehicle and handcuffed her after she became combative, and that she swung her elbows at him and kicked him in his right shin.
Encinia said he then used force “to subdue Bland to the ground” and she continued to fight back. He arrested her, alleging assault on a public servant.
Bland’s arrest and death drew the attention of the Black Lives Matter movement. Protesters questioned officials’ assertion that Bland killed herself and linked her to other blacks killed in confrontations with police or who died in police custody, including Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and Freddie Gray in Baltimore.
The family has filed a civil rights lawsuit that it hopes will shed more light on what happened to Bland and compel authorities to release documents, including a Texas Rangers investigation into the case. Authorities had withheld the Rangers report, citing the grand jury process that has now finished.