Austin, Texas (TexasTribune) – Waller County grand jurors indicted Department of Public Safety trooper Brian Encinia on a single charge of perjury Wednesday because they did not believe he was telling the truth about his actions during the arrest of Sandra Bland, special prosecutor Darrell Jordan confirmed.
The charge against Encinia stems from the trooper’s statement at the time of her arrest on July 10 about why he felt he needed to pull her out of her own vehicle, Jordan told The Texas Tribune.
“The statement in the probable cause statement is that Officer Encinia pulled her out of her car to further the traffic stop investigation,” Jordan said.
DPS announced Wednesday evening it planned to fire Encinia.
“Following the Waller County grand jury indictment of Trooper Brian Encinia today, the Texas Department of Public Safety will begin termination proceedings to discharge him from the department,” the department said in a statement.
Bland’s arrest and subsequent death drew national attention, in part due to the video of the traffic stop recorded by a dashboard camera inside Encinia’s patrol car. 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 then 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.” Jordan confirmed that was the statement grand jurors keyed in on.
Bland family attorney Cannon Lambert said he and his clients don’t understand why it took six months to reach the indictment.
“His lies were captured on camera and available in six days,” Lambert said.
Encinia also should have been charged for assault and battery, the attorney said.
“They feel toyed with,” Lambert said. “They feel disrespected.”
Bland’s family had expressed discontent with the grand jury process. Lambert said the family is not upset with grand jurors but with the prosecutors and what they say was a lack of transparency.
“Where there’s no transparency, it makes it difficult to garner public confidence,” the attorney said.
“This grand jury is done,” Jordan said. “We just came to do our job to present the evidence and they came back with an indictment, and we’ll go forward to seek justice on behalf of Waller County.”
The panel met Wednesday to continue considering charges in connection with the arrest and death of Sandra Bland, after deciding in December not to indict anyone for her death.
Bland, a black woman from Illinois, was found hanged in a Waller County Jail cell on July 13, 2015, three days after being arrested by Encinia. Her death, ruled a suicide, galvanized loved ones, social justice organizations and critics across the country, raising questions about race and policing, jail safety standards and mental health awareness.
Dashcam footage shows Encinia and Bland in a heated argument before the two struggled as she was arrested. DPS chief Steve McCraw has said Encinia violated several protocols when engaging Bland, but the agency and the trooper’s attorney say they are immune to a federal lawsuit under the 11th Amendment, which broadly protects states and its institutions from being sued by individuals in federal courts. Encinia was confirmed on administrative duty as of Tuesday afternoon.
Bland’s mother, Geneva Reed-Veal, is suing Encinia, the Department of Public Safety, Waller County and two jailers who interacted with her daughter, claiming that Bland was denied her constitutional rights, which led to her death. The wrongful death case, filed in federal court in Houston, is set for trial in early 2017.
Lambert said the next move will be to pursue the Texas Rangers report investigating Bland’s death. The report has been withheld from the public because of grand jury proceedings, but “that’s over now,” he said.
Lambert said his team plans to depose people involved in the Texas Rangers investigation to make their case.
“That’s how you get a real gauge for what’s happened,” he said.
Encinia’s indictment gives citizens the chance to review the case in a court of law, a step such cases rarely reach, said state Rep. Garnet Coleman, a Houston Democrat.
“This is an opportunity for the Bland family to know that the justice system can work,” he said.
Encinia is partly responsible for Bland’s death because his behavior toward her escalated the situation, said Coleman, chairman of the Texas House County Affairs Committee.
“He could have approached it differently, and there would have been an entirely different result,” Coleman said.
Requests for comment from Encinia’s attorney were not immediately answered.