Austin, Texas (TexasTribune) – The Texas Department of Public Safety and indicted trooper Brian Encinia want a federal judge to let the officer’s criminal case in Waller County play out before moving forward with a lawsuit filed by Sandra Bland’s mother.
Bland’s case drew national attention after Encinia stopped her near the Prairie View A&M; University campus on July 10 for failing to properly signal a lane change. After a heated argument, Encinia arrested Bland for assaulting a public servant. Bland was found hanged in her Waller County jail cell three days later, and her death has been ruled a suicide.
Encinia, the trooper who arrested Bland, is facing a perjury charge after a Waller County grand jury concluded Wednesday that there was evidence the officer lied about how Bland exited her car. Attorneys for Encinia and the state say the lawsuit filed by Bland’s mother could interfere with the officer’s right to a fair trial.
Texas Assistant Attorney General Seth Byron Dennis said in court papers filed Friday that the investigative reports and depositions that would surface in such a lawsuit “would interfere with Trooper Encinia’s ability to receive a fair trial in the state criminal matter… Given the media coverage of this case, public dissemination of reports could influence jurors.”
Bland’s mother, Geneva Reed-Veal, filed a wrongful death lawsuit in August in U.S. district court. Reed-Veal is suing Encinia, the Department of Public Safety, Waller County and two jailers.
A Waller County grand jury in December chose not to indict anyone in Bland’s death, but the panel later indicted the trooper for perjury based on conflicts between his written report and dashboard camera footage of the arrest. In the video, Encinia can be seen opening Bland’s driver’s side door and reaching in for her. She refuses to come out and the trooper threatens to use a Taser on her.
But in Encinia’s report, he wrote: “I had Bland exit the vehicle to further conduct a safe traffic investigation.” Special prosecutor Darrell Jordan said Wednesday that was the statement grand jurors keyed in on.
Cannon Lambert, the attorney for Bland’s family, has been focused on obtaining the Texas Rangers’ report on the arrest so he can depose witnesses and others involved in the investigation. The much sought-after report was under lock and key as the grand jury investigated the arrest and death of Bland.
With the panel’s work done, Lambert says he wants the report now.
“Assuming that the court agrees with us that we should be provided the Ranger report, we would certainly oppose a stay” of the family’s lawsuit, Lambert said. “We wish to bring a fair and just resolution to this matter for the family. It is not fair or just that simply because Encinia was charged with a misdemeanor, Sandy’s family should be put on the back burner.”
Hours after the Wednesday indictment, DPS said it would begin the process of firing Encinia. Encinia’s attorney, Larkin Eakin Jr., said his client would appeal the move.
Encinia surrendered to the Texas Rangers on Thursday and was taken to the Waller County Jail, where he was released after posting bond.
If convicted of the misdemeanor perjury charge, Encinia could face up to a year in jail and a $4,000 fine. Encinia plans to plead not guilty, Eakin said.
“They’re going to have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that those words used were intended to deceive, and honestly, he does not feel, nor do I, that they are deceptive,” the attorney said.
Just because he didn’t use the exact same words from his report does not mean the trooper perjured himself, Eakin said.
“They’re going to have to show that he intended to commit perjury,” Eakin said, “and I don’t think they can do that with a fair jury.”
This article was prepared by Johnathan Silver and originally appeared in The Texas Tribune.