The Case of Sandra Bland as an Example of Police Brutality in Texas
We want to be believe that every member of law enforcement agencies in Texas, will fulfill their oath to “serve and protect” the public. However, there are cases and examples that continue to demonstrate abuse of power, intimidation and violence against citizens in excess of what is warranted for safe questioning, investigation and arrest procedures in our state.
A case of police brutality that made national headlines, was the tragic traffic stop involving Sandra Bland, a young 28 year old educated black woman who was moving to Texas to start a new job. I would like to share some of the details about the Sandra Bland case, as recent developments have further demonstrated the potential for law enforcement misconduct, racial profiling and needless violence resulting in wrongful death.
The Tragic Case of Sandra Bland
Moving from Illinois to Texas to start a new job, Sandra Bland was pulled over by Texas State Troopers, as she had changed lanes on the highway without using an indicator signal on July 10, 2015. Sandra was a 28 year old woman who had graduated with a degree in agriculture, had worked as a summer counselor, and had volunteered with a senior citizens advocacy group. She was a graduate of from Prairie View A&M University, in Waller County Texas.
In January of 2015, Sandra Bland had begun sharing posts on social media and videos that commented on racial profiling from police, against black Americans. She had several counts of DWI on her record, and approximately $7,579 in unpaid motor vehicle fines, at the time she was pulled over in Texas. There has been some legal debate whether her previous record profiled her and prompted an aggressive treatment at the time of her traffic stop.
The State Trooper was Brian Encinia, and the traffic pull-over escalated into a heated argument, where Sandra Bland was reluctant to put out her cigarette. Trooper Encinia’s conduct was recorded on the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) dashcam, and footage was released on July 21, 2015. Unfortunately, the footage released from law enforcement appeared to be edited, with several timeline inconsistencies that were suspicious. That video was later removed by DPS and substituted with another unedited version, available to the public.
Sandra Bland became fearful of the aggressive nature of the Brian Encinia and refused to leave the safety of her vehicle. The officer then told Bland that she was ‘under arrest’. Bland was removed to the side of the vehicle not visible by the police dashcam, but the audio recorded her crying and screaming.
A bystander recorded the incident, showing Sandra Bland lying on the ground with Encinia and another female police officer. Bland is heard telling the law enforcement officers that she is hearing impaired, and the eye witness claimed that the officer ‘slammed’ Sandra Bland’s head into the ground. Sandra Bland is also heard explaining to the law enforcement officers that she is epileptic. The recorded video also shows State Trooper Encinia ordering the bystander to leave.
She had also been recording the incident on her own personal device in her vehicle. Trooper Encinia used his stun gun on Sandra Bland, and she was taken into custody. Curiously, Sandra Bland’s own footage and recording of the event was not released to her family, or the public until 2019, which has opened up in inquiry again into her death, and alleged charges of police misconduct and cover-up.
After watching the 2019 release of Sandra Bland’s own personal video, it is not difficult to understand why the woman felt threatened by State Trooper Brian Encinia, and fearful to leave her vehicle. Repeatedly in the vehicle she is stating that his reaction to a charge of ‘failure to signal’ did not warrant his violent response.
What Happened While Sandra Bland Was Incarcerated for Three Days?
At 6:30 a.m. on July 13, 2015, jailors reported that Sandra Bland refused her breakfast. Bland asked for assistance to make a telephone call and was told how to use her pin to do so, but never made a call. By 9:00 a.m. that day, Sandra Bland was discovered in her cell hanging in a semi-standing position, and her death was ruled a suicide.
The post-mortem evaluation of Sandra Bland’s body revealed multiple abrasions on the right side of her back, and on her wrist, along with healing assumed self-inflicted cuts on her left forearm. Toxicology revealed that she had a very high level of THC in her system, which was suspicious given that she had been incarcerated for three days. Tarrant County medical examiner’s stated that they had “never seen in a report or literature or from any other source of residual THC that high three days after someone stops using the drug”.
Wrongful Death Charges and Civil Suit from the Relatives of Sandra Bland
Officer Brian Encinia was charged with perjury by a grand jury, after it was proven through video footage that he had lied in his affidavit, when he claimed he “removed her from her vehicle to further conduct a safer traffic investigation”. He was fired from his role as a State Trooper, and the perjury charge was later dropped in exchange for an order prohibiting him from working in any capacity of law enforcement in the future.
The wrongful death suit was settled for a sum of $2 million dollars. Texas Department of Public Safety officials stated that they complied with all evidence requirements as part of the civil lawsuit filed by the family of Sandra Bland. In spite of the fact that Sandra’s person video evidence was not released until four years after her death.
Sandra Bland Mocked in Facebook Posts from North Texas Law Enforcement
In June 2019, Texas Monthly published an expose on a number of North Texas (Dallas and Denison) law enforcement officers, who were sharing violent, objectionable and racially profiled posts and comments on a private Facebook group called “Blue Lives Matter”.
While Sandra Bland’s tragic case should serve as a dire reminder to law enforcement officers about procedures, and the human element of taking an individual into custody (rather than using terror tactics and violence), several police officers can be seen mocking Sandra Bland. Particularly the street where she was arrested, that was named in her honor, as her case was a tipping point for the #BlackLivesMatter movement locally, here in Texas.
“One Dallas officer shared a petition titled “Sandra Bland Parkway is a disgrace,” and commented, “Naming a street and park after a drunken, disrespectful, mentally ill and suicidal person is ridiculous! This woman accomplished nothing note worthy and positive in her life to merit such a thing.”
The photo attached to the comment from a North Texas law enforcement officer, shows a stick figure human being behind bars, hanging from a rope, and the officer watching in a chair entertained, and eating popcorn.
Were You a Victim of Police Brutality During Your Arrest in Dallas?
Unless you are resisting arrest, uttering violent threats, or attempting to assault a law enforcement officer physically or with a weapon during your questioning, you have the right to remain safely in your vehicle. Stay calm and be respectful to the law enforcement officer to reduce any occurrence of miscommunication or escalation of the situation.
However, if you have been charged with a felony or misdemeanor criminal activity, and you did not resist arrest but still found that the conduct of the law enforcement officers who detained you were violent, and beyond reasonable cause resulting in physical and psychological injury, these facts must be part of your criminal defense case.
Contact Britt Redden for a free consultation to discuss the circumstances of your arrest, and for advice regarding next steps to prepare your case and issues of police brutality, intimidation or misconduct for court.
When the Red and Blue lights are lit, call Britt!
Schedule your free legal consultation.
Feature Photo: ywboston.org