Chicago Crusader staff report
A fired Texas trooper on Tuesday, March 23 pleaded not guilty to a misdemeanor perjury charge stemming from his arrest last summer of Sandra Bland. Bland, a Black Chicago native, was found dead in a county jail last July.
While a crowd of protestors gathered outside in Hempstead, TX Brian Encinia entered his plea before a Waller County judge.
Bland’s arrest captured on a police dash-camera video provoked national outrage and drew the attention of the Black Lives Matter movement.
In January, a county grand jury indicted Encinia 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.
After Tuesday’s arraignment, Encinia’s attorney, Larkin Eakin, said 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.
Video of the stop shows Encinia drawing his stun gun and telling Bland, “I will light you up!” Bland can later be heard off-camera screaming that he’s about to break her wrists. She is also heard complaining that Encinia knocked her head into the ground. In his affidavit, Encinia 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 in the process of moving to Texas from Chicago’s Naperville suburb. She was taken to the Waller County jail in Hempstead. On July 13, she was found hanging from a jail cell partition three days after she was arrested. A plastic garbage bag was found 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.”
Cannon Lambert, the attorney for the family, said they met with prosecutors Tuesday and urged them to aggressively pursue the case against Encinia.
“The family wanted to make clear that their expectations are that (authorities) prosecute him fully and seek the mandatory sentence,” he said. “The family is in no way interested in a plea, and the family understands they don’t have the authority to force the prosecutors to do what the family wants but they wanted them to be clear exactly what the family is seeking.”
A judge last week ordered the FBI to allow Bland’s family to review a report of the Texas Rangers’ investigation into her death. U.S. District Judge David Hittner’s order is part of the Bland family’s wrongful death lawsuit filed in Houston against Encinia and others involved in her detention.
The FBI had initially declined to turn over the report, contending it was protected under law enforcement privilege.
Encinia’s next court hearing is scheduled for May 17. The perjury charge is a misdemeanor that carries a maximum of one year in jail and a $4,000 fine.
The Texas Department of Public Safety early this month formally fired Encinia over the stop. He can appeal the decision.
Encinia met last month with DPS Director Steve McCraw, but their conversation gave the agency leader no reason “to alter my preliminary decision,” according to a termination letter signed by Encinia.
ABC News contributed to this report.