Sandra Bland’s family calls for criminal charges against Texas trooper

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Sandra Bland and her mother

A day after grand jurors decided not to issue indictments in connection with the death of Sandra Bland in a Texas jail, lawyers for her family urged prosecutors to press for criminal charges against the state trooper who arrested Ms. Bland.

Ms. Bland, an Illinois resident who was moving to Texas to start a new job, was arrested on July 10 after a routine traffic stop in Prairie View, northwest of Houston, and taken to the Waller County jail. Three days later, she was found hanging from a trash bag in her cell. A police dashboard camera video that gained national attention after its release showed the arrest escalating into a violent confrontation between Ms. Bland and the arresting trooper, Brian Encinia.

Though grand jurors decided not to indict any of Ms. Bland’s jailers in connection with her death, the investigation remains open, and it is widely assumed that the panel could still consider criminal charges against Trooper Encinia when it reconvenes next month.

“I can’t tell you what we’re going back to consider,” said Darrell Jordan, a special prosecutor assigned to the case, who cited Texas law regarding grand jury secrecy. “But you can do the math and figure out what it is.”

Cannon Lambert, a Chicago-based lawyer for the Bland family, said he believed that Trooper Encinia never had probable cause to make the traffic stop, that the trooper had committed assault and battery during the arrest, and that he had omitted key information from his incident report. The family also disputed a medical examiner’s finding that Ms. Bland, 28, killed herself.

“It was a false arrest,” said Mr. Lambert, who is representing the Bland family in a federal lawsuit against the Texas authorities. “He used excessive force. And those are things that should be prosecuted.”

Footage of Ms. Bland’s traffic stop showed that it escalated when Trooper Encinia asked Ms. Bland to extinguish a cigarette. Ms. Bland declined to put out the cigarette, then did not leave her car when Trooper Encinia told her to. The trooper threatened to remove her by force, saying, “I’m giving you a lawful order.”

After a physical struggle, the video showed Trooper Encinia pull out a stun gun and yell, “I will light you up.” At that point, Ms. Bland got out of the car. Later, outside the camera’s view, a scuffle could be heard, and Ms. Bland indicated that she was on the ground. “You just slammed me, knocked my head into the ground,” she said.

Trooper Encinia’s report did not mention the dispute over the cigarette or his threat to use a stun gun.

The Texas attorney general’s office, which is representing Trooper Encinia in the civil lawsuit, declined to comment on Tuesday. Officials at the Texas Department of Public Safety said Trooper Encinia remained an employee, and was on administrative duty.

The Texas authorities, citing the continuing criminal investigation, have objected to Mr. Lambert’s requests to have a Texas Rangers investigation on Ms. Bland’s time in custody released as part of his lawsuit.

Mr. Lambert said he hoped grand jurors would indict Trooper Encinia, but criticized the lengthy grand jury process as “a political ploy to pacify the public.”

But Mr. Jordan, a defense lawyer appointed as one of five special prosecutors in the case, defended the grand jury process and said he was “frustrated” by Mr. Lambert’s criticism.

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