The Texas state trooper who arrested Sandra Bland and kicked off the saga stemming from her jail cell suicide was charged with perjury Wednesday.
The charge against Brian Encinia is only a Class A misdemeanor, which carries a maximum penalty of a year in jail and a $4,000 fine, but it reignites the intense outrage over Bland’s death and allegations of racial bias among Texas police.
What exactly Encinia is believed to have lied about is unclear, because the grand jury proceedings are not public. But special prosecutor Darrell Jackson told The Atlantic the perjury allegations stem from Encinia’s statement that he forced Bland from her car in order to continue an investigation, a claim jurors disbelieved.
Bland, a 28-year-old black woman who had just moved to Texas to start a job at Prairie View A&M, was stopped by Encinia for a minor traffic violation on July 10. The situation escalated, though, when Encinia asked Bland to put out a cigarette and she refused, asking why she had to put out a cigarette in her own car. Encinia then ordered Bland out of her car and threatened her with a taser when she initially refused, warning “I will light you up!” Encinia then arrested Bland, claiming she was defying his “lawful order.” After her arrest, the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) claimed Bland kicked Encinia and charged her with assaulting a public servant. Unable to afford $500 in bail, Bland was stuck in side Waller County Jail.
Her case never saw trial, though. On July 13, Bland was found hanging in her cell, strangled by a plastic garbage bag. Authorities ruled her death a suicide, but the incident sparked wild conspiracy theories that police had murdered her and then tried to cover it up. At the peak of the hysteria, some people even suggested authorities had faked a mugshot for Bland using her already-dead corpse. Claims of a cover-up were fueled by DPS’s release of the dashcam footage from Bland’s arrest, which had missing pieces that critics say is proof of editing (DPS blamed the problems on technical glitches).
Even without the more conspiratorial claims, Bland’s death became a rallying point for the Black Lives Matter movement, and many called for those involved with Bland’s arrest and confinement to be criminally charged, claiming their misconduct directly led to Bland’s death. Last fall, a grand jury failed to indict any of Bland’s jailers, leaving Encinia as the last remaining person who could be charged.
In addition to the criminal investigation of Bland’s death, a wrongful death lawsuit by her family against Waller County, DPS, Encinia, and two of the jailers is pending.
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