HEMPSTEAD, Texas (AP) — The indictment and expected firing of the Texas state trooper who arrested Sandra Bland, a black woman who later died in jail, was a “bittersweet” moment for her sister.
Sharon Cooper told The Associated Press on Wednesday that she sees the perjury charge against Trooper Brian Encinia as long overdue, but also something that doesn’t come close to equaling her family’s loss. Bland was found hanging in her jail cell three days after Encinia arrested her, in what authorities have ruled a suicide.
Cooper said what happened to her sister was “largely impacted” by the encounter with Encinia.
“It could easily have been avoided,” she said.
Encinia was indicted Wednesday on allegations that he lied when he claimed in an affidavit that Bland was “combative and uncooperative” after he pulled her over during a July traffic stop and ordered her out of her car. The grand jury identified that affidavit in charging Encinia with perjury, special prosecutor Shawn McDonald said Wednesday night.
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.
Encinia was not immediately taken into custody, and an arraignment date has not yet been announced. Encinia could not immediately 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 had committed suicide and linked her to other black suspects who were killed in confrontations with police or 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 and accepted a job. Dashcam video from Encinia’s patrol car shows that the traffic stop quickly became confrontational.
Video of the stop 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 for assault on a public servant.
Bland was taken to the Waller County jail in Hempstead, 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.
The perjury charge is a misdemeanor that carries a maximum of one year in jail and a $4,000 fine.
Cannon Lambert, an attorney for Bland’s family, said Encinia should have also been indicted for assault, battery or abuse of his official power. The family has filed a civil rights lawsuit.
“The public deserves accountability,” Lambert said. “If you don’t have public accountability, you don’t have public trust. I want the public to be able to trust the police.”
Lambert and Cooper, her sister, said they are waiting for authorities to turn over records of their investigation and allow Encinia and others to be deposed.
Until those things happen, Cooper said, Bland’s relatives won’t have the answers they need.
“Our family’s grieving process is at a standstill,” she said.
Merchant reported from Dallas.