State Trooper Who Arrested Sandra Bland Was Hardly A “Model” Police Officer [UPDATED]

SCROLL TO THE BOTTOM FOR UPDATES.

Thanks to an increase in pressure from activists and media attention, Sandra Bland’s death is now being investigated as a murder. As you’ll recall, the 28-year-old was found dead in her jail cell three days after being arrested during a routine traffic stop outside Houston, Texas. The Texas Department of Public Safety issued a statement that both the Texas Rangers and the FBI are jointly investigating the circumstances surrounding her death, which was quickly ruled a suicide by hanging. Bland’s friends and family have been vocal in their belief that Bland would not have killed herself.

Bland was arrested on a charge of assaulting a public servant after Officer Brian Encinia, the state trooper who pulled her over, ordered that she put out her cigarette and she refused, saying she “wasn’t comfortable getting out of the car.” She had good reason to be hesitant – dash cam video of the arrest (which is set to be released sometime this afternoon) allegedly shows Encinia slamming Bland onto the ground, while Bland’s sister said the officer not only pushed his knees into her back, but may had even broken her arm.

The Waller County district attorney tried to justify that problematic display of unnecessary brute force used by the state trooper, saying that Bland “was very combative” and that she “was not a model person that was stopped at a traffic stop.” What does that even mean? Is the insinuation that because Bland was, according to DA, “not a model person” she is responsible for what happened to her? Well then, what of the state trooper himself? In a statement issued by state officials, a review of the traffic stop found that Encinia violated both the police department’s traffic stop procedures and the department’s “courtesy policy.”

Let’s be clear: this routine traffic stop only turned “combative” AFTER the Officer Encinia violated procedure with his orders and Bland resisted complying with what she correctly believed to be in violation of her rights. Bland was then arrested for supposedly assaulting the officer, but Cannon Lambert, the Bland family’s lawyer, is raising questions about that claim, because from what he could tell from the dash cam video, no such assault occurred. After Bland questioned why she should have to extinguish her perfectly legal cigarette, which she was smoking inside her own vehicle, the footage reportedly shows Encinia opening Bland’s door and trying “to force her to get out of the car.” Hmm, it sure seems clear that the state trooper who pulled Bland over that day was most certainly not a model officer, and it was his actions that turned this incident into “not a model traffic stop.” If the state trooper would’ve simply handed the young woman her ticket or warning and went about his day, there would have been no altercation, no arrest and Bland would very likely still be alive right now.

Though additional video footage from the Waller Country jail, released by the sheriff’s office, failed to capture any suspicious activity in the hallway leading to Bland’s cell for about 90 minutes before she was found, the circumstances of her arrest, the failure of Waller County P.D. to comply with procedure, and the suspicious nature of her death suggest that foul play cannot be ruled out. Even if this young woman — who had just moved to Texas after landing her dream job — took her own life while in a bout of depression, if investigations into her arrest find that she was jailed unlawfully there is no doubt that the officer should be found liable in some way. After all, if that is the case, had she not been in prison, perhaps Bland could have gotten the help she needed? I’m certain that being publicly shamed and assaulted by a police office for simply smoking a cigarette, days before starting a new job, would not have helped an already unstable mental state. (And again, that’s only if it does indeed turn out that she took her own life.)

The dash cam video footage is expected to be released at 3 p.m. EST today and this post will be updated at that time. As more details become known and the independent autopsy report requested by the Bland family concludes her cause of death, more questions will certainly surface. However, justice, right now, simply means bringing to light the facts. Bland’s family and loved ones at least deserve to know the truth about what happened after that traffic stop gone awry led to their beloved daughter, sister and friend dying alone in a jail cell.

[ABC News]

[NY Times]

*****

UPDATE (6:21 p.m. EST, by Amelia): A brief recap of today’s press conference on the death of Sandra Bland:

  • For the time being, Sandra Bland’s death is being treated as a homicide.
  • The officer who arrested her, Brian Encinia, has been put on administrative leave.
  • Public Safety Director Steven McCraw said the trooper violated policy both in what he did and what he said.
  • Senator Royce West said that Encinia threatened Bland with a taser during the arrest.
  • West also said that she did not deserve to be taken into custody and “once you see what occurred, you will probably agree with me.”
  • Senator West: “Sandra Bland bears no responsibility for what happened.”

The dash cam video is below. The beginning shows a previous traffic stop, which conveniently shows Encinia being Mr. Nice Guy — it is irrelevent. Skip ahead to the two-minute mark:

Some details on the above video, starting at the nine-minute mark, when the officer returns to Bland’s car:

  • After bringing Bland her written warning, Encinia asks her what’s wrong and says she looks irritated. Bland proceeds to explain that she is irritated about being pulled over, that she had been maneuvering her car out of his car’s way before he decided to pull her over for not using her turn signal.
  • The officer then says, “You done?” and asks her to put out her cigarette. She asks him why she needs to put out her cigarette since she is smoking in her own vehicle and he immediately tells her to get out of the car. She refuses and says that he doesn’t have the right to tell her to do that, that she has done nothing wrong.
  • Over the next minute or so, Encinia screams at Bland to get out of the car, opens her car door and says, “I’m going to yank you out of this car, I will remove you.” At one point, he actually says, “I will light you up” while pointing a taser at her.
  • After he drags her out of the car, he forces her to put down her cellphone, which she says she has the right to use to record him. He forces her to the side of the road, out of the camera’s view and handcuffs her.
  • We cannot see, but we can hear Bland repeatedly crying out that Encinia is “about to break my wrist,” at one point crying out in serious pain. “You’re about break my fucking wrist, you’re about to break my wrist, please stop.”
  • She continues to ask him why she is being arrested, and he replies that she is not being compliant. He still won’t tell her why she is being arrested. Another officer, a female, can be heard off camera, having arrived on the scene (13 mins in).
  • Bland repeatedly says that she can’t wait to take the officer to court. She also calls him a pussy and asks him if he feels like a man.
  • At the 14:50 mark, Bland says she can’t get up and “I can’t even feel my fucking arm.”