Grand Jury Indicts Trooper In Sandra Bland Case
Waller County grand jurors indicted Department of Public Safety trooper Brian Encinia on a single charge of perjury Wednesday because they did not believe he was telling the truth about his actions during the arrest of Sandra Bland, special prosecutor Darrell Jordan confirmed.
The charge against Encinia stems from the trooper's statement at the time of her arrest on July 10 about why he felt he needed to pull her out of her own vehicle, Jordan told The Texas Tribune.
"The statement in the probable cause statement is that Officer Encinia pulled her out of her car to further the traffic stop investigation," Jordan said.
As a result of the indictment — the only one issued by the grand jury in the Bland case — a warrant will be issued for Encinia's arrest. It was not immediately known whether Encinia will turn himself into authorities. If convicted of the charge, Encinia could face up to a year in the Waller County Jail and a $4,000 fine.
"This grand jury is done," Jordan said. "We just came to do our job to present the evidence and they came back with an indictment, and we'll go forward to seek justice on behalf of Waller County."
The panel met Wednesday to continue considering charges in connection with the arrest and death of Sandra Bland, after deciding in December not to indict anyone for her death.
Bland, a black woman from Illinois, was found hanged in a Waller County Jail cell on July 13, 2015, three days after being arrested by Encinia. Her death, ruled a suicide, galvanized loved ones, social justice organizations and critics across the country, raising questions about race and policing, jail safety standards and mental health awareness.
Dashboard camera footage shows Encinia and Bland in a heated argument before the two struggled as she was arrested. DPS chief Steve McCraw has said Encinia violated several protocols when engaging Bland, but the agency and the trooper's attorney say they are immune to a federal lawsuit under the 11th Amendment, which broadly protects states and its institutions from being sued by individuals in federal courts. Encinia was confirmed on administrative duty as of Tuesday afternoon.
Bland’s mother, Geneva Reed-Veal, is suing Encinia, the Department of Public Safety, Waller County and two jailers who interacted with her daughter, claiming that Bland was denied her constitutional rights, which led to her death. The wrongful death case, filed in federal court in Houston, is set for trial in early 2017.
Encinia's indictment gives citizens the chance to review the case in a court of law, a reality such cases usually never reach, said state Rep. Garnet Coleman, a Houston Democrat.
"This is an opportunity for the Bland family to know that the justice system can work," he said.
Encinia is partly responsible for Bland's death because his behavior toward her escalated the situation, said Coleman, chairman of the Texas House County Affairs Committee.
"He could have approached it differently, and there would have been an entirely different result," Coleman said.
Requests for comment from Encinia's attorney were not immediately answered.
Note: This story has been updated.