Sandra Bland (File photo)
A Texas state trooper was indicted by a grand jury Wednesday on a perjury charge stemming from the July traffic stop and arrest of Sandra Bland, who was later found hanged in her Waller County Jail cell.
The Texas Department of Public Safety released a statement shortly after the indictment saying the state trooper, Brian Encinia, will be fired. If found guilty of the Class A misdemeanor, Encinia could face up to a year in jail and a $4,000 fine.
Darrell Jordan, a special prosecutor on the case, said the grand jury issued an indictment because it believed Encinia made a false statement about why he removed Bland from her car during a routine traffic stop.
Jordan said Encinia said in his arrest report that “he pulled [Bland] out to further investigate the traffic stop.” Jordan added that the grand jury would not issue any more indictments and had finished investigating the case.
According to the Houston Chronicle, Encinia’s attorney said he will plead not guilty.
“He was surprised obviously, because he does not feel anything was misleading in his report,” Encinia’s lawyer, Larkin Eakin, told the Chronicle.
Bland, a 28-year-old black woman, was pulled over by Encinia in Prairie View on July 10 for failing to signal a lane change. During the stop, Encinia asked her to put out her cigarette. When she refused, the state trooper ordered her to exit the vehicle. Bland cursed at Encinia, and he eventually drew a Taser and yelled, “I will light you up.”
Bland died in a Waller County Jail cell three days after her arrest. Medical examiners ruled her death a suicide. Investigations of the incidents were launched and Encinia was placed on administrative duty.
News of Bland’s treatment, arrest and death sparked a national conversation and she became a face for the Black Lives Matter movement. Her death fueled protests in Waller County. The road on which Bland was arrested was temporarily renamed after her, and a college scholarship was established in her memory at Prairie View A&M University, her alma mater.
In a statement, state Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, said he was glad Bland’s family “will get their day in court.”
“In my opinion, Trooper Brian Encinia’s actions [were] the catalyst for the death of Sandra Bland,” Coleman said. “Trooper Encinia is innocent until proven guilty and it is now up to our justice system to make the final determination.”
Coleman convened several state House County Affairs Committee hearings after Bland’s death to investigate county jail procedures. The jail where Bland died has a history of violating state rules.
During the first hearing, Coleman and other lawmakers grilled DPS Director Steve McCraw, who said Encinia’s conduct during the arrest was unprofessional and violated policy.
Since those hearings, the Texas Commission on Jail Standards made changes to the jail intake form to better scan for suicide risks.
Bland’s mother filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against Encinia and the jailers late last year. A trial is set for January 2017. The Texas attorney general’s office will represent Encinia in that case but will not for his indictment.
Cannon Lambert, the Bland family’s attorney, was critical of the indictment.
“How do you charge him with perjury, which means you know he’s lying, but then you don’t charge him for false arrest when you know the basis for the arrest itself was a lie?” Lambert said Wednesday.
He said it took DPS too long to fire the trooper.
“It shouldn’t have taken an indictment to serve as the basis when all you had to do was look at the video,” Lambert said. “It is the delay that makes the family feel like they’re being toyed with.”
The Waller County grand jury said in December that it would not indict any of the jail staff. Lambert said then that the grand jury investigation was a “sham of a process.”