Trooper who arrested Sandra Bland is fired: why now?

Brian Encinia, who detained Sandra Bland after pulling her over for failure to use turn signals, has been formally released from the Texas Department of Public Safety, seven months after the controversial arrest.

Texas Department of Public Safety/Reuters
Texas state trooper Brian Encinia points a Taser as he orders Sandra Bland out of her vehicle, in this still image captured from the police dash camera video from the traffic stop of Bland's vehicle in Prairie View, Texas, July 10.

Seven months after Sandra Bland was found hanging in a Texas jail, the public safety officer who arrested her during a confrontation after she failed to use her turn signal when changing lanes has been formally fired.

The Texas Department of Public Safety announced Wednesday that Brian Encinia would be terminated by the end of the day. The firing process began when Mr. Encinia was indicted in January. Until now, he was on paid desk duty and remained on payroll since Ms. Bland's arrest last summer. 

“I have determined that you have not rebutted the charges set out in the statement of charges of January 28, 2016,” the agency director Steve McCraw wrote in his letter of termination. “No cause has been presented to alter my preliminary decision. Therefore, it is now my decision that you be discharged from the Texas Department of Public Safety effective at 5:00 p.m.”

On Jan. 6, a grand jury in Hempstead, Texas, indicted Encinia on a perjury charge. But it wasn’t the first time a jury convened to consider wrongdoing in Ms. Bland’s case. In December, grand jurors declined to indict anyone pertaining to her death in jail.

The former trooper was charged for lying about the reasons for demanding Bland to leave her car, according to special prosecutor Shawn McDonald. He lied that he removed Bland from her car to do a safer traffic investigation.

Bland was pulled over in July on the outskirts of Houston for failing to use her turn signal, according to Encinia's report. The trooper arrested her for assaulting a public servant, though dashboard camera footage released after her death suggested that Encinia played a larger role in escalating the altercation than his reported indicated. Bland was found dead in her cell, three days later. Although her death has been ruled a suicide, her family argues that if she hadn’t been arrested, she would have never killed herself.

If convicted, Encinia’s penalty for perjury, a misdemeanor, would be up to a year in jail and a maximum fine of $4,000. The grand jury had met three times prior to the indictment, including once in December that resulted in the lack of indictment for anyone in connection to Bland’s death, including Waller County Jail employees.

The case became national news when a video of her arrest was made public. But this first video had technical problems, including a lag between the officer’s audio and the video.

A newer version was later released. But even now, Bland’s family wishes they had more information about the circumstances of her arrest and death, according to their attorney Cannon Lambert. The Texas Rangers' initial report, among other key documents, have not yet been released. It doesn’t help that in similar cases, Mr. Lambert says, police were fired almost immediately.

“For seven months now the family has been pulled in directions that could have been avoided,” Lambert told the Los Angeles Times. “When you add insult to injury it just makes it harder to rebound.”

On the same day of his indictment – six months after Bland’s death – DPS began the process of firing Encinia. According to Director McCraw’s letter, the department cites three reasons for his departure from the agency: One, Encinia “failed to exercise patience and discretion throughout” his encounter with Bland at the traffic stop. Two, he “prolonged the traffic stop beyond the time reasonably necessary to complete the tasks associated with the traffic infraction.” And finally, he failed to follow the specific, seven-step protocol to interviewing a violator.

The dashcam video from Encinia's patrol car indicates how the traffic stop escalated. In it, the trooper can be be seen drawing his stun gun and telling Bland, "I will light you up!" after Bland refuses to get out of her car. When Bland does eventually step out, Encinia orders her to the side of the road. The confrontation continues off-camera but the audio still records.

Encinia’s attorney, Larkin Eakin Jr., said his client will appeal DPS’ decision. He has 15 days.

This report contains material from Reuters.

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