A Texas state trooper pleaded not guilty Tuesday in a case stemming from the death of Sandra Bland, whose death in jail last summer fueled criticism of police and their treatment of minorities.
Trooper Brian T. Encinia has not spoken publicly since Bland’s death, although he has received a steady stream of threatening calls and letters leading him to fear for his safety, his attorney said.
“When your death threat level is as high as his, you’re always concerned about appearing,” said attorney Larkin Eakin Jr., a former county attorney who along with his wife, a local judge, has also received death threats.
Encinia, wearing a gray suit and tie, was escorted by Texas Rangers as he arrived at the courthouse in Hempstead, about 55 miles west of Houston, to appear before District Judge Albert McCaig Jr. Encinia did not speak publicly.
Encinia, 30, stopped Bland near Prairie View A&M University on July 10 for failing to properly signal a lane change. After a heated argument captured on dash camera video, the trooper arrested Bland, 28, for assaulting a public servant and took her to Waller County jail. Three days later, Bland was found hanged in her jail cell. Her death has been ruled a suicide.
In January, a Waller County grand jury indicted Encinia after concluding there was evidence he lied about the circumstances under which Bland left her car. Encinia turned himself in the day after he was indicted by the grand jury and was released on $2,500 bond.
If convicted of the misdemeanor perjury charge, Encinia could face up to a year in jail and a $4,000 fine.
Encinia’s attorney has said he had grounds to stop Bland, told the truth to the grand jury and plans to fight the charge.
Earlier this month, Encinia was formally fired by Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw, who said the trooper’s actions during the traffic stop violated department standards.
Encinia’s attorney said his client is appealing the firing to the Texas Public Safety Commission, a five-member oversight board that can set aside or affirm it following a public hearing.
Bland’s relatives have demanded investigative records in the case as part of the wrongful-death lawsuit they filed in August against the Waller County Sheriff’s Office, jail officials and the Texas Department of Public Safety. A federal judge in Houston set the case for trial Jan. 23, 2017.
Government attorneys have sought to delay the lawsuit until Encinia’s criminal case plays out, or dismiss it, arguing that Bland killed herself because she was distraught that friends and family didn’t bail her out of jail.
But last week, the judge handling the case allowed the family and Encinia to review a lengthy investigative report by the Texas Rangers, although they were not allowed to discuss it, according to the family’s Chicago-based attorney, Cannon Lambert.
“The family is looking forward to the information in the report. They want to know what was investigated, how the investigation was conducted and how thoroughly the investigation was done,” Lambert said.
“The report will be a revelation as to who was spoken to, what statements were taken, what evidence was obtained and preserved, and will give insight into what happened to Sandy.”
Bland’s case was championed by the Black Lives Matter movement and has also become part of the presidential campaign: Her mother, Geneva Reed-Veal, who lives in the Chicago suburbs, has appeared with Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.
Reed-Veal was expected to attend the arraignment and speak afterward, along with daughter Shante Needham, Lambert said.
Source: Los Angeles Times | Molly Hennessy-Fiske