The mother of a black woman found dead in a Texas jail cell after a traffic stop in July expressed outrage this week that the white state trooper who pulled her over was only charged with nothing more than perjury. And even on that misdemeanor, Sandra Bland’s anguished mother said she had little confidence in the prospect of a conviction.
Geneva Reed-Veal told reporters in Chicago the trooper should have been charged with assault, battery and false arrest.
“To charge this guy with a misdemeanor, are you kidding me?” she said of the perjury charge, which carries a maximum of one year in jail and a $4,000 fine. “I’m angry, absolutely. … That’s not justice for me.”
Bland, a 28-year-old former resident of Naperville, Illinois, was stopped in July for an improper lane change. The stop quickly escalated into a shouting match and a physical confrontation in which the trooper threatened to use a stun gun. Bland was arrested on suspicion of assaulting the trooper. Authorities say Bland hanged herself in her jail cell three days later.
Trooper Brian Encinia was indicted Wednesday by a grand jury in Texas on allegations that he lied when he claimed in an affidavit that Bland was “combative and uncooperative” after he pulled her over during the traffic stop and ordered her out of her car.
Hours after the indictment, the Texas Department of Public Safety said it would “begin termination proceedings” against Encinia, who has been on paid desk duty since Bland was found dead in her cell.
Reed-Veal said the trooper should not be out on the street “to infect anyone else’s life.”
The family has filed a civil rights lawsuit that it hopes will shed more light on what happened to Bland and compel authorities to release documents, including a Texas Rangers investigation into the case. Authorities had withheld the Rangers report, citing the grand jury process that has now finished.
Reed-Veal said the separate criminal proceedings in the trooper’s case would not bring “true justice.”
“Who is going to prosecute this guy? Is it the same group of folks who selected the grand jury?” she said, chuckling in apparent disbelief. “… I don’t trust the process.”
Encinia was not immediately taken into custody, and an arraignment date has not yet been announced. Encinia could not be reached for comment; a cellphone number for him was no longer working.
Bland’s arrest and death provoked national outrage and drew the attention of the Black Lives Matter movement. Protesters questioned officials’ assertion that Bland killed herself and linked her to other blacks killed in confrontations with police or who died in police custody, including Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and Freddie Gray in Baltimore.
Encinia pulled Bland over on July 10 for making an improper lane change near Prairie View A&M University, her alma mater, where she had just interviewed for and accepted a job.
Dashcam video from Encinia’s patrol car shows Encinia drawing his stun gun and telling Bland, “I will light you up!” Bland eventually steps out of the vehicle, and Encinia orders her to the side of the road. She can later be heard off-camera screaming that he’s about to break her wrists and complaining that he knocked her head into the ground.
Encinia wrote in his affidavit that he had Bland exit the vehicle and handcuffed her after she became combative, and that she swung her elbows at him and kicked him in his right shin. Encinia said he then used force “to subdue Bland to the ground” and she continued to fight back. He arrested her, alleging assault on a public servant.
Bland was taken to the Waller County jail in Hempstead, Texas, about 50 miles northwest of Houston. Three days later, she was found hanging from a jail cell partition with a plastic garbage bag around her neck. The grand jury has already declined to charge any sheriff’s officials or jailers in her death.