Texas Trooper Who Arrested Sandra Bland Is Charged With Perjury
By DAVID MONTGOMERYJAN. 6, 2016
HEMPSTEAD, Tex. — The state trooper who arrested Sandra Bland, the Chicago-area woman who three days later was found hanged in her cell at the Waller County jail, has been indicted on a perjury charge, a special prosecutor here said Wednesday.
Hours after the indictment was announced against the trooper, Brian T. Encinia, the Department of Public Safety said that the state police agency “will begin termination proceedings to discharge him.”
The charge against Trooper Encinia, a Class A misdemeanor, was announced at the end of a day of grand jury deliberations. It carries a possible penalty of one year in jail and a $4,000 fine, prosecutors said.
The charge stemmed from a one-page affidavit that Trooper Encinia filed with jail officials justifying the arrest of Ms. Bland, who was pulled over July 10 in a routine traffic stop in Prairie View, northwest of Houston, for failing to use her turn signal. Ms. Bland, 28, who was black, was returning to Texas to take a job at Prairie View A&M University, her alma mater.
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A video released by Texas officials confirms accounts of a physical confrontation between Ms. Bland and a state trooper. But her arrest and cause of death remain in dispute.
The trooper wrote that he removed Ms. Bland from her car to more safely conduct a traffic investigation, but “the grand jury found that statement to be false,” a special prosecutor, Shawn McDonald, said.
A police dashboard-camera video of the episode shows an escalating confrontation after Ms. Bland refuses Trooper Encinia’s request to put out a cigarette. At one point, Trooper Encinia says he will forcibly remove Ms. Bland from her car and threatens her with a Taser, saying, “I will light you up.”
Larkin Eakin, Trooper Encinia’s lawyer, said he spoke to his client after the indictment was announced. “His reaction was he’s not guilty,” Mr. Eakin said. “When you’re not guilty, you don’t expect to be indicted.”
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The next step calls for a Waller County judge to issue a warrant, set bond and schedule an arraignment hearing. Mr. Eakin said Trooper Encinia remained on administrative duty and would appear for the arraignment when the date was set.
The question of criminal charges against Trooper Encinia was believed to be the last major issue facing the grand jury, which began its investigation in August, two special prosecutors, Darrell Jordan and Lewis White, told reporters outside the Waller County Courthouse earlier Wednesday. The grand jury had already declined to indict any of Ms. Bland’s jailers in connection with her death on July 13, effectively sustaining the medical examiner’sruling of suicide.
Ms. Bland’s family, which has filed a wrongful-death suit, has expressed frustration and disappointment with the grand jury, saying Waller County officials have failed to keep them informed about its progress. Cannon Lambert, the family’s lawyer, has called the case a “sham of a process.” The Waller County district attorney, Elton Mathis, appointed an independent panel of five lawyers, including Mr. Jordan and Mr. White, to oversee the investigation.