Sandra Bland Settlement Could Lead to State Police Reforms

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While lingering questions about her untimely death in custody gained national headlines, it was the video footage of Sandra Bland's arrest outside Prairie View A&M that triggered a cascade of public outrage. 

The video shows Texas Department of Public Safety Trooper Brian Encinia pulling over Bland's Hyundai Azera for changing lanes without a signal. It's clear from the video Bland was frustrated by the stop. After Encinia asks, “You okay?” Bland tells him she doesn't understand why she's getting a ticket, tries to explain that she was just trying to move out of the way of a police cruiser that quickly pulled up behind her, and finishes by saying, "So yeah, I am a little irritated, but that doesn't stop you from giving me a ticket." 

The stop quickly escalates from there. "Are you done?" Encinia asks in a dismissive tone. He asks Bland to put out her cigarette — "Would you mind?" Bland questions why she should have to. That, it seems, was enough for Encinia to force Bland out of her car. When she starts to recite what sounds like a line from a know-your-rights presentation (“I refuse to talk to you other than to identify myself …”) Encinia lunges into the vehicle, grabbing at Bland with his hands. He then pulls back, grabs a Taser from his belt and screams these infamous words: "I will light you up!" Bland ultimately ends up facedown on the ground, hands cuffed behind her back. In the video, you can hear her crying, her voice muffled. “This make you feel real good, huh? … Slam me, knock my head into the ground," she tells him. "I got epilepsy you motherfucker.”

“Good,” Encinia tells her. “Good.”

This week saw the end of one chapter in the Sandra Bland case, with her family reaching a tentative $1.9 million settlement with state and county officials they'd sued after her suicide in custody. The Houston Chronicle reports that the settlement aims to fix some of the systemic problems revealed in the wake of Bland's death — problems that aren't isolated to the Waller County jail. Before the settlement was announced, the Bland family's lawyers claimed a former Waller County Jail guard said under oath that he falsified entries on a jail log, indicating he'd checked on Bland before she was found dead when he hadn't. Here in Bexar County, jailers used to call that practice "pencil whipping." 

While Encinia didn't directly cause Bland's death, it was his traffic stop and arrest that put her in that Waller County jail cell. It appears he'll be the only official to face charges in the case. Earlier this year, a Waller County grand jury indicted him after finding evidence he'd lied about the circumstances of Bland's arrest. He faces a misdemeanor perjury charge, which carries a punishment of up to a year in jail and a $4,000 fine.

DPS director Steve McCraw, who said Encinia's actions during Bland's traffic stop violated department standards, officially fired Encinia earlier this year (the trooper has appealed that decision). According to the Chron, the Bland family's settlement with state officials calls for de-escalation training for all current and future state police officers. Judging from the video of Bland's arrest, it's pretty clear why. 
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