Sandra Bland Trooper Indicted, Fired

Rep. Garnet Coleman reflects on the case

Special prosecutors announced Wednesday, Jan. 6, that a Waller County grand jury has indicted Texas state trooper Brian Encinia for perjury.

Sandra Bland (Courtesy of Facebook)

The charges stem from statements Encinia made about his July 10 arrest of Sandra Bland, an African-American Prairie View A&M graduate who was later found hanged in her Waller County jail cell. Later on Wednesday, DPS announced that it would begin termination proceedings against Encinia, who had been on administrative leave.

Bland's death and the arrest that led to her incarceration have been a symbol for many activists, including those involved with Black Lives Matter, who have called for criminal charges not only against Encinia but also Bland's jailers. Bland was pulled over by Encinia for allegedly failing to signal when changing lanes. She was accused of assaulting a public servant; however, dashcam video shows Encinia threatening to forcibly remove Bland from her car, and to "light [her] up" with his Taser.

Waller County D.A. Elton Mathias appointed a panel of five independent special prosecutors to investigate Bland's case. The grand jury in December declined to charge Bland's jailers in connection with her death, which was ruled by the medical examiner as a suicide. A legislative inquiry into the conditions surrounding Bland's death and jail suicides in general was led by Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, who is chair of the House Committee on County Affairs. In a statement, Coleman wrote, "I'm glad that Sandra 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. Trooper Encinia is innocent until proven guilty and it is now up to our justice system to make the final determination."

In an interview with the Chronicle, Coleman said that the committee, in partnership with the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee, plans to “wrap up a report in November of this year,” looking “particularly at the evidence of bias in the arrest and the differential treatment of black people by DPS.” Coleman continued, “It's real. Whether it's real under the definition of racial profiling, [if not] then we need to change the definition.” Coleman acknowledged that these problems aren’t unique to DPS, but that “I'm a state legislator and they're the state police.”

Coleman said Bland's traffic stop should not have led to an arrest. “She had no reason to be going to jail … In most cases you don't get this far [as an indictment].” As for the grand jury’s failure to charge any of Bland’s jailers, Coleman said, “it's a more difficult judgment to make … we do know they did not follow the procedure but it looks like there isn't [an available sanction].”

The representative said that he hopes to see strengthening of the rules surrounding the care of county jail inmates as well as improving training for jailers and adding state oversight, but that “we will be thoughtful … Part of the work we will be doing next year is figuring out how to release someone who is not a danger on their own recognizance. We don't have enough of that happening in Texas. … A minor crime shouldn't land someone in a county jail for the amount of time it takes for their charges to be brought.”

Editor's note: This post has been updated to note DPS' announcement that it would be terminating Encinia.

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