Hempstead, Texas (TexasTribune) – Alleging that Sandra Bland’s “rights and privileges as a citizen of the United States” were violated, Bland’s mother filed a wrongful death lawsuit Tuesday against the Texas Department of Public Safety, Waller County and several law enforcement officers.
Bland, 28, was found hanged in her Waller County jail cell on July 13, three days after she was pulled over for an improper lane change and arrested and charged with assaulting a police officer. The case has received nationwide attention after partial video of her arrest by DPS Officer Brian Encinia sparked nationwide outrage when it was uploaded to the Internet last month.
Video from the arresting officer’s dashboard camera shows an argument between Encinia and Bland that turned combative when Bland questioned why she had to get out of her car. At one point, Encinia pulls out a Taser and appears to point it at Bland’s head.
Bland’s mother, Geneva Reed-Veal, targets Encinia and two officers at the jail in her lawsuit. She alleges Encinia caused Bland “extreme mental anguish and emotional distress as a result of being falsely arrested, physically assaulted, and battered.”
The force Encinia exhibited “was not necessary under the circumstances,” according to the lawsuit.
Reed-Veal’s suit also says two Waller County officers — Elsa Magnus and Oscar Prudente — were “reckless in failing to provide adequate monitoring” of Bland to keep her safe. In one of the counts against Waller County, she cited a “conscious disregard” for her daughter’s safety. The lawsuit also notes that Magnus and Prudente “did not attempt to transport Sandra Bland to a medical facility to be seen by a physician” on the day she was found hanging in her cell.
The suit alleges Waller County jailers were inadequately trained to handle potentially suicidal inmates and did not establish face-to-face contact with Bland every hour.
Reed-Veal seeks an unspecified amount in damages and a jury trial related to the case.
The DPS placed Encinia on desk duties after the incident, saying the dashboard video of the arrest revealed violations of traffic stop procedures. The Texas Rangers and the FBI are investigating Bland’s arrest and her death at the jail.
“Texas Department of Public Safety knew or should have known that Defendant Brian Encinia exhibited a pattern of escalating encounters with the public,” according to the lawsuit.
Encinia was warned by DPS about his “unprofessional conduct” in 2014, according to his personnel file.
The DPS said in a statement it has not been notified about the lawsuit and declined to discuss “potential or pending litigation.”
Reed-Veal’s lawsuit also alleged that jailers placed Bland in a cell with “inappropriate” items, including a garbage can, garbage bags, exposed beams and cords, and “failed to appropriately respond” when Bland didn’t eat food provided to her and experienced “bouts of uncontrollable crying,” according to the lawsuit.
Larry Simmons, the attorney representing Waller County, said he plans to file a response soon in court.
“The county expresses its sympathy to Sandra Bland’s family,” Simmons wrote in a statement. “We look forward to presenting all the evidence to the Court, in the context of the applicable standards for civil liability, and intend to vigorously defend the case.”
The Waller County sheriff’s office and the lawyer representing Waller County did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The Harris County medical examiner’s office ruled Bland’s death a suicide, according to the autopsy report.
However, the inquiry into Bland’s death is being conducted with the rigor and breadth of a murder investigation, Elton Mathis, Waller County’s district attorney, said last month.
Written by Sophia Bollag for the Texas Tribune.
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