Austin, Texas (TexasTribune) – The mother of Sandra Bland, the young black woman found hanged in a Waller County jail following a traffic stop, has asked a federal judge for help getting the FBI to turn over details of her daughter’s arrest and death — including an elusive report by the Texas Rangers.
Geneva Reed-Veal is asking for the Rangers’ report as part of the wrongful death lawsuit she filed in August in U.S. district court. The report is believed to include more details on what happened on July 10, the day Texas Department of Public Safety Trooper Brian Encinia stopped Bland near the Prairie View A&M University campus for failing to properly signal a lane change. After a heated argument, Encinia arrested Bland for allegedly assaulting a public servant.
Bland was found hanged in her jail cell three days later, and her death has been ruled a suicide. Bland’s family disputes that finding and alleges in its lawsuit that Encinia assaulted and battered her. Reed-Veal is suing Encinia, the Department of Public Safety, Waller County and two jailers; the state has moved to throw out the suit.
Reed-Veal’s attorney, Cannon Lambert, said in court papers filed Thursday that his legal team believes the FBI may have a DVR control box and hard drive containing original video footage from the Waller County Jail during the time that Bland was in custody. The federal agency might also have reports from local law enforcement and the Texas Rangers, witness statements and other evidence, Lambert suggested.
Reed-Veal attempted to subpoena such information from the FBI on Oct. 14. The FBI, through U.S. Attorney Sam Longoria, instead moved to quash the subpoena, arguing that the agency is not a party in the case, has sovereign immunity, can choose not to comply and does not discuss possible ongoing investigations.
U.S. District Judge David Hittner denied the FBI’s motion. According to Lambert’s filing, Longoria told one of Reed-Veal’s attorneys after Hittner’s order that “the Houston office of the FBI has been hard at work compiling all information and/or documentation responsive to the subpoena. It should be ready for production shortly after the New Year.”
But on Jan. 5, according to Lambert’s filing, Longoria reported that the FBI had no originally produced materials — just information from the state investigation into Bland’s arrest and death. Longoria reportedly told Lambert that the state had shared the information with the FBI with the understanding that the FBI would not release the information before the completion of the state’s criminal investigation. At the time of Longoria’s email, a Waller County grand jury was investigating Bland’s arrest. The next day, the panel indicted Encinia on a perjury charge.
Though the state’s criminal investigation is now complete, the FBI has refused to release any information because of the ongoing perjury case, “law enforcement privilege” and the state’s motion to halt the federal lawsuit, Lambert said in the filing. If convicted of the misdemeanor perjury charge, Encinia could face up to a year in jail and a $4,000 fine.
Reed-Veal and her attorney argue the pending misdemeanor shouldn’t stand in the way of them getting the information they’ve requested.
Longoria referred a request for comment to a spokeswoman with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Houston who was not immediately available to comment.
In addition to Reed-Veal’s request, Hittner is also considering a motion from the Department of Public Safety and Encinia’s attorney to halt Reed-Veal’s suit until the perjury case plays out. As of Thursday afternoon, Hittner hadn’t ruled on either motion.
Outside of the criminal and civil cases, Encinia is fighting to keep his job. After his indictment was announced, the Department of Public Safety began the process of firing the trooper.
This report was prepared by Johnathan Silver for Texas Tribune.