Texas Trooper Charged With Misdemeanor In Sandra Bland Case

Photo: KENA BETANCUR/AFP/Getty Images.
Update: Brian Encinia, the Texas state trooper who arrested Sandra Bland, has been charged with perjury in connection to the July 2015 traffic stop which led to Bland’s arrest and death.

According to the Associated Press, on Wednesday, a grand jury indicted Encinia on charges of lying about how he removed Bland from her car. The charge, a misdemeanor, carries a maximum penalty of a year in jail and a $4,000 fine. There is no trial date set.

The announcement comes a few weeks after a previous grand jury declined to indict jail officials in the death of Bland, which was ruled a suicide.

This story was originally published on December 22, 2015.
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Prosecutors in Texas announced on Monday that a grand jury has failed to indict sheriff's officials or jailers in the death of Sandra Bland, a Black woman who died in police custody in July.

Reuters reports that a grand jury in Waller County, Texas, decided that neither sheriff’s officials or jailers had committed a crime in their treatment of Bland. Bland was arrested by trooper Brian Encinia during a routine traffic stop. Dashcam footage later emerged showing Encinia roughly arresting Bland. Unable to make $500 bail, Bland was held in jail. Three days later, she was found dead in her cell. Her family has since questioned the medical examiner's decision to rule her death a suicide, and demanded an independent investigation.

Waller County District Attorney Elton Mathis told the press that there was no evidence to show that Bland’s death was anything other than a suicide.

Bland's death is the latest of several in which grand juries have decided not to indict the officers involved. Grand juries also did not to indict officers in the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO, or Eric Garner in Staten Island, NY, among others.

So without an indictment, what happens now? Despite jail officials escaping prosecution, Bland's case is far from over. Here are the main points to remember as the case moves forward.

The trooper who arrested Bland could still face charges.
Just because the officials who dealt with Bland in jail have been cleared of wrongdoing doesn’t mean that officials are cleared of all accountability. Encinia, who arrested Bland, could still be indicted. His case is being considered separately from that of jail officials. The dashcam video of the arrest shows things escalating between Encinia and Bland. At one point, Encinia threatens her with a Taser, yelling, “I will light you up!”

Encinia has been on administrative leave since the incident came to light. The grand jury will reconvene in January to decide whether to indict him.

Grand jury decisions are sealed, keeping evidence from being released to the public.
Bland’s family has been critical of the fact that the evidence used to clear the officials has not been made available to them. The family’s attorney, Cannon Lambert, told CNN that the closed hearing was an attempt to cover up what had happened to Bland.

"We are not going to allow what they have done in a limited, secret capacity to prevent us from doing what we need to do to get answers for the family," Lambert said.

Bland’s family has also filed a civil suit in her death.
In August, Bland’s mother, Geneva Reed-Veal, filed a wrongful-death lawsuit in federal court against the county and the state, as well as specific troopers and officials. The suit alleges that Bland was held in dangerous conditions and left unsupervised despite a history of suicidal behavior. The suit also alleges that Bland should never have been arrested, and that Encinia had a “deliberate indifference to and conscious disregard” for Bland’s rights.

The case is scheduled for trial in early 2017, no matter what happens with official investigations. Whether or not Encinia is indicted by the grand jury, he will appear in court to respond to Bland’s death. Several cases where grand juries failed to indict officers on criminal charges have still resulted in civil settlements for the families. Garner's family received $5.9 million from the City of New York after he died shortly after being roughly arrested.

Sandra Bland is far from the only woman to have died in police custody.
Bland’s death became yet another rallying cry for the Black Lives Matter movement, but it’s a movement that only encompasses part of the reality of what happened to Bland. Her death also drew attention to the lack of coverage of the deaths of Black women. The social-media hashtag #SayHerName called attention to a myriad of other Black women who have died at the hands of law enforcement. Activist Feminista Jones told Refinery29 at the time that the media simply didn’t care about their stories. "The media covers the stories that will garner the most interest, and the abuse of Black women is barely a blip on anyone's radar," she said.
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