News / USA

    Texas Trooper Indicted for Perjury in Woman's Arrest

    About two dozen people demonstrated outside the Waller County Courthouse in Hempstead, Texas, Jan. 6, 2016.
    About two dozen people demonstrated outside the Waller County Courthouse in Hempstead, Texas, Jan. 6, 2016.
    VOA News

    A Texas state trooper who arrested a black motorist who was later found hanged in her jail cell was indicted by a grand jury Wednesday on a perjury charge stemming from the July traffic stop.

    A grand jury indicted Trooper Brian Encinia on a misdemeanor count, alleging he lied about how he removed 28-year-old Sandra Bland from her vehicle. She was found dead in her jail cell three days later. Her death was ruled a suicide.

    The same Waller County grand jury decided last month not to indict any sheriff's officials or jailers in Bland's death.

    'Termination proceedings'

    Shortly after the indictment was read, the Texas Department of Public Safety released a statement saying that it would "begin termination proceedings" against Encinia. If found guilty of the Class A misdemeanor, he could face up to a year in jail and a $4,000 fine.

    This undated handout photo provided by the Waller County sheriff’s office shows Sandra Bland, who was found dead in her jail cell in Hempstead, Texas, July 13, 2015.This undated handout photo provided by the Waller County sheriff’s office shows Sandra Bland, who was found dead in her jail cell in Hempstead, Texas, July 13, 2015.
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    This undated handout photo provided by the Waller County sheriff’s office shows Sandra Bland, who was found dead in her jail cell in Hempstead, Texas, July 13, 2015.
    This undated handout photo provided by the Waller County sheriff’s office shows Sandra Bland, who was found dead in her jail cell in Hempstead, Texas, July 13, 2015.

    Encinia was not immediately taken into custody, and an arraignment date has not yet been announced. He could not immediately be reached for comment.

    Encinia had been placed on paid desk duty after Bland was found dead in her cell. He also faces a wrongful death lawsuit filed by Bland's family.

    Sharon Cooper, Bland's sister, told The Associated Press the indictment and expected firing of Encinia are "bittersweet."

    Cooper said she sees the perjury charge against Encinia as long overdue, but also that the charge doesn't come close to equaling her family's loss.

    She said Bland's death was "largely impacted" by the encounter with the trooper. "It could easily have been avoided," she told the AP.

    Bland remained jailed following her arrest because she couldn't raise about $500 for bail.

    Bland's arrest and death provoked national outrage, raised questions about racial bias by police, and drew the attention of the Black Lives Matter movement.

    Protesters linked her death 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.

    On July 10, 2015, Bland was driving near Prairie View A&M University, her alma mater, where she had just accepted a job. Encinia pulled Bland over for making an improper lane change.

    Quickly becomes confrontational

    Dashcam video from Encinia's patrol car shows that the traffic stop quickly became confrontational, with Encinia drawing his stun gun and telling Bland, "I will light you up!" when she at first refuses to get out of her car.

    Bland eventually steps out of the vehicle, and Encinia orders her to the side of the road. She can be heard off-camera screaming that he's about to break her wrists and complaining that he knocked her head into the ground.

    FILE - Frame from a dashcam video provided by the Texas Department of Public Safety shows a heated confrontation between trooper Brian Encinia with Sandra Bland after a minor traffic infraction, July 10, 2015.
    FILE - Frame from a dashcam video provided by the Texas Department of Public Safety shows a heated confrontation between trooper Brian Encinia with Sandra Bland after a minor traffic infraction, July 10, 2015.

    In his affidavit, Encinia wrote that Bland had become combative after leaving her vehicle, and he was forced "to subdue Bland to the ground," and she continued to fight back. He said he arrested her for assault on a public servant.

    Encinia's affidavit stated he pulled Bland out of her car to further investigate the traffic stop, but grand jurors "found that statement to be false," said Shawn McDonald, one of five special prosecutors appointed to investigate.

    About two dozen protesters attended Wednesday's press conference where the indictment was announced.

    Afterward, protester Jinaki Muhammad called the misdemeanor charge "a slap in the face to the Bland family."

    Some material for this report came from AP and Reuters.

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