Brian T. Encinia, the Texas State Trooper who made the initial and violent arrest of Sandra Bland during a routine traffic stop just days before she was found dead in a jail cell last summer, was indicted on charges of perjury by state prosecutors on Wednesday for making false statements regarding his behavior during the incident.
The specific charge, as the New York Times reports, "is a Class A misdemeanor, and was announced at the end of a day of grand jury deliberations. The charge carries a possible penalty of one year in jail and a $4,000 fine, prosecutors said."
According to a statement by Phoebe Smith, one of the special prosecutors assigned to investigate the case, the "grand jury didn’t believe that" a statement made by Encinia during his testimony about what transpired "was truthful."
From the Times:
Ms. Bland, 28, who was black, was returning to Texas to take a job at her alma mater, Prairie View A&M. She was pulled her over by Trooper Encinia in a routine traffic stop in Prairie View, northwest of Houston, for failing to use her turn signal.
A police dashboard-camera video 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 her from her car and threatens Ms. Bland with a Taser, saying, “I will light you up.”
The question of criminal charges against Trooper Encinia was believed to be the last major issue before the Waller County grand jury, which began its investigation in August, special prosecutors Darrell Jordan and Lewis White told reporters outside the Waller County Courthouse earlier on Wednesday. Earlier, the grand jury declined to indict any of Ms. Bland’s jailers in connection with her death on July 13, effectively sustaining the medical examiner’s ruling of suicide.
In response to Wednesday's announcement, social justice advocates said the indictment was a move in the right direction, but not nearly enough.
"This was a small and important step towards justice for Sandra Bland but not holding Encinia accountable for his unlawful and violent arrest of Sandra Bland is an insult to her life and memory," said Nita Chaudhary, co-founder of the social justice group UltraViolet. "True justice can only be obtained if the DOJ and Attorney General Lynch step in and launch a thorough and full investigation into the practices of the Waller County police department, and ensure that this police department, and EVERY police department in this country is held accountable for brutality against Black women. Failing to do so will send a strong message that the lives of Black women don’t matter."
Reaction to the news was also being widely expressed on Twitter (see sidebar).
The Guardian adds:
In December, a grand jury decided no felony crime was committed by the sheriff’s office or jailers in the treatment of Bland, 28, who was found with a plastic bag tied around her neck in her Waller County jail cell.
But Bland’s relatives, along with supporters, questioned a medical examiner’s finding that Bland had killed herself.
In the days after her death, county authorities released video from the jail to dispel rumors and conspiracy theories that Bland was dead before she arrived at the jail or was killed while in custody. County officials said they themselves received death threats.
In the wake of the non-indictment against any police officer or jail employees last year, Bland's family and supporters expressed deep criticism of the lack of justice and the entire grand jury process.
At the time, Bland's mother Geneva Reed-Veal slammed the lack of transparency on the part of prosecutors and other authorities, but ultimately indicated that much of the blame must be focused on the actions that Encinia took that day.
"I think she should have never been incarcerated," Reed-Veal. "Period."