The state trooper who pulled over Sandra Bland just days before she was found dead in a jail cell has been cleared of the only charge he ever faced: perjury.
A judge dismissed the single charge against Brian Encinia under the condition that Encinia give up his law enforcement credentials and never seek employment in that sector again. He may also never seek to have his record expunged. If he violates these conditions he risks having the charges reappear, the Associated Press reported.
None of the employees at the Waller County jail, where Bland was found dead in her cell, were ever indicted, leaving no one held responsible for the young woman’s tragic death, which a medical examiner ruled a suicide.
Bland, 28, was pulled over by Encinia on July 10, 2016, for failing to signal while changing lanes. Encinia stated in an affidavit regarding Bland’s arrest, “I had Bland exit the vehicle to further conduct a safe traffic investigation. Bland became combative and uncooperative. … Bland was removed from the car but became more combative.”
However, dashcam footage from Encinia’s patrol car revealed that a confrontation did not begin until Bland refused to put out her cigarette and Encinia, not Bland, became aggressive. He threatened to “yank” Bland out of the car and said, “I am gonna drag you out of here … I will light you up.” Cellphone video from a witness of the arrest shows Bland laying on the ground, where she accuses Encinia of using excessive force: “You just slammed my head into the ground. Do you not even care about that? I can’t even hear.”
The altercation ended in Bland’s arrest. Three days later, Bland was found dead in her jail cell. Her family has never agreed with the ruling that she died by suicide.
Encinia was fired from his job as a result of the misdemeanor perjury charge. Termination proceedings began in January, and he was officially fired in March.
Encinia’s lawyer called dropping the charge “the right thing to do.”
Phoebe Smith, a special prosecutor in the case, told the Houston Chronicle that going up against a jury would have been a gamble, and the dismissal ensures that Encinia never works in law enforcement again.
“We dismissed it based on the fact that he permanently surrendered his license,” Smith said. “The bottom line is, we never wanted him to be a police officer again and we wanted to ensure that outcome. When you take a case in front of jury there’s always that risk.”
Cannon Lambert Sr., attorney for Bland’s family, believes otherwise, the Chronicle reported.
“The idea that he’s giving up his license to be a police officer isn’t satisfying, since a conviction, which was something that would have easily been achieved, would have blocked Encinia from acting as a police officer in the future anyway,” Lambert said, according to the outlet.
He added in a statement, as reported by ABC 13:
“It’s a shame that they didn’t take the time to contact the family ahead of their decision to do what they said they would not do. They assured the family they would see this through. This is the reason why the community has a hard time trusting the system.”
And the majority of deaths are labeled as suicides, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.
Disturbingly, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, three out of four of those who die while in custody in local jails have not even been convicted of a crime.
More than half of jail deaths occur within the first month of being arrested, with the majority — 36.5 percent — within the first week, and 21.0 percent within 8-30 days.
In 2012, 31.3 percent of these jail deaths were labeled as suicides. While illness overall tops this at 55.2 percent, suicide is number one when looking at illnesses broken down in specific categories (heart disease comes second to suicide at 28.2). For every 100,000 people in jail, 40 committed suicide — double the rate of those in prison and triple the rate of the general population.
Bland’s death ignited further conversation about the treatment of Blacks while in police custody. It also sparked #IfIDieInPoliceCustody, a topic people used on Twitter to declare their own personal statements that they would never take their own lives while in police custody.