Texas state trooper in Sandra Bland traffic stop indicted, fired

A Texas state trooper was fired after being charged with perjury for allegedly lying about his confrontation with Sandra Bland, a black woman who died three days later in jail.

Michael Graczyk/AP
About two dozen people demonstrate outside the Waller County Courthouse on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2016, in Hempstead, Texas. A grand jury has resumed considering the case of Sandra Bland, the black Chicago-area woman who died in a Texas county jail three days after her arrest in a traffic stop last summer.

A Texas state trooper who arrested Sandra Bland after a contentious traffic stop last summer was fired Wednesday after being charged with perjury for allegedly lying about his confrontation with the black woman who died three days later in jail.

Trooper Brian Encinia claimed in an affidavit that Bland was "combative and uncooperative" after he pulled her over and ordered her out of her car. The grand jury identified that affidavit in charging Encinia with perjury, special prosecutor Shawn McDonald said Wednesday night.

Hours after the indictment, the Texas Department of Public Safety said it would "begin termination proceedings" against Encinia, who has been paid desk duty since Bland was found dead in her cell.

Bland's arrest and death — which authorities ruled a suicide — provoked national outrage and drew the attention of the Black Lives Matter movement. Protesters linked Bland to other black suspects who were killed in confrontations with police or died in police custody, including Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and Freddie Gray in Baltimore.

Video of the stop shows Encinia drawing his stun gun and telling Bland, "I will light you up!" She can later be heard off-camera screaming that he's about to break her wrists and complaining that he knocked her head into the ground.

Encinia's affidavit stated he "removed her from her vehicle to further conduct a safer traffic investigation," but grand jurors "found that statement to be false," said McDonald, one of five special prosecutors appointed to investigate.

She was taken to the Waller County jail in Hempstead, about 50 miles northwest of Houston. Three days later, she was found hanging from a jail cell partition with a plastic garbage bag around her neck. The grand jury has already declined to charge any sheriff's officials or jailers in her death.

The perjury charge is a misdemeanor that carries a maximum of one year in jail and a $4,000 fine. Encinia was not immediately taken into custody, and an arraignment date has not yet been announced.

About two dozen protesters attended Wednesday's news conference where the indictment was announced. One protester's sign read, "Legalize black skin."

Speaking afterward, one protester, Jinaki Muhammad, called the misdemeanor charge "a slap in the face to the Bland family."

Encinia also faces a wrongful death lawsuit filed by Bland's family. Attorneys for Bland's family did not immediately returned messages seeking comment about the indictment.

Encinia pulled Bland over on July 10 for making an improper lane change near Prairie View A&M University, her alma mater, where she had just interviewed and accepted a job. Dashcam video from Encinia's patrol car shows that the traffic stop quickly became confrontational.

The video shows the trooper holding a stun gun and yelling, "I will light you up!" after Bland refuses to get out of her car. Bland eventually steps out of the vehicle, and Encinia orders her to the side of the road. The confrontation continues off-camera but is still audible.

Encinia wrote in his affidavit that he had Bland exit the vehicle and handcuffed her after she became combative, and that she swung her elbows at him and kicked him in his right shin. Encinia said he then used force "to subdue Bland to the ground," and she continued to fight back. He arrested her for assault on a public servant.

Bland's sister, Shante Needham, has said Bland called her from jail the day after her arrest, saying she'd been arrested but didn't know why, and that an officer had placed his knee in her back and injured her arm.

Her family has said they were working to get money for her bail when they learned of her death.

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Associated Press writer Nomaan Merchant in Dallas contributed to this report.

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