Sandra Bland’s Family Awarded $1.9 Million Settlement
“How did switching lanes with no signal turn into all of this?”
(Question left on a voicemail by Sandra Bland during a call from the jail house.)
On July 10, 2015, Texas Department of Public Safety trooper Brian Encinia stopped Sandra Bland for failure to signal a lane change. Sandra was 28-years old. She was in Texas to start a job on August 3, 2015 as a summer program associate with Prairie View A&M University in Waller County, Texas.
Upon returning to Sandra’s car with citations for her to sign, Encinia asked Sandra to put out her cigarette. When Sandra asked Encinia why she would need to put out her cigarette in her own car, Encinia ordered Sandra out of her car, and taking out his stun gun, threatened to “light” her up if she did not comply. Encinia accused Sandra of assaulting him and she was taken to jail.
On July 13, 2015, Sandra was found dead in her jail cell. She was found hung with a plastic trash bag around her neck, from a partition that was shorter or about the same height as Sandra, who was 6 feet tall.
In December 2015, a grand jury declined to indict anyone in connection with Sandra’s death. In January 2016, a grand jury indicted Brian Encinia (the arresting officer) for perjury. The grand jury did not believe Encinia’s statement that he wanted Sandra removed from her car so he could conduct a safer traffic investigation. The Texas Department of Public Safety terminated Encinia for violating department standards.
Encinia is free on a $2,500 bond. If convicted, he faces up to a year in jail and a $4,000 fine.
A Tangled Web is Weaved
In August 2015, Sandra’s family filed a wrongful death lawsuit. They demanded investigative records in the case. A federal judge in Houston set January 23, 2017 for the case to go to trial.
Government attorneys sought to delay the lawsuit until Encinia’s criminal case plays out. The attorneys argued that Sandra killed herself because she was distraught that friends and family didn’t bail her out.
In January 2016, a grand jury indicted Prairie View Officer Michael Kelley for using his stun gun on a City Council member. The charge is described as “official oppression” which is a misdemeanor. Police said the incident happened in October 2015 when they questioned four men outside Prairie View City Council Member Jonathan Miller’s apartment about suspicious activity in the neighborhood. Miller intervened and video from on one of Miller’s friends shows Kelly using a taser on Miller when Miller didn’t follow his commands. City Council Member Jonathan Miller was charged with resisting arrest and interference with public duties.
In case anyone is interested or thinks that it matters, Miller, the Council member is Black. Kelley is White.
In July 2016, Officer Michael Kelley said that his indictment was in retaliation for his wanting to tell the grand jury that Encinia was on the phone with a supervisor after arresting Sandra because he didn’t know what to charge Sandra with to justify her arrest.
Officer Kelley stated that the county’s top prosecutors threatened to end his career if he came forward with what he says is evidence of wrongdoing. Kelley said he was never contacted by special prosecutors handling the case, and the Waller County district attorney’s top assistant said there would be repercussions if he spoke to a Bland family attorney. Prosecutors denied Kelley’s allegations.
The Chicago Tribune reports that one jailer gave a deposition admitting that he falsified a jail log.
More than Money — Change
(Agreeing with thine adversary)
On September 19, 2016, Waller County, several county employees and Brian Encinia, reached a settlement in the wrongful death case. Bland family attorney Cannon Lambert said all parties have agreed to terms including a $1.9 million payout to the family — $1.8 million from Waller County and $100,000 from the Department of Public Safety, and changes in jailing and law enforcement practices that could have statewide implications.
Since her death, Bland’s family, lawmakers, policy experts and activists have pushed for procedural changes in jails, and new laws that might lessen the chances of another death like hers. They say that the next battles will largely be in political and legislative arenas.
Conditions of the settlement include the requirement for sensors to be used at the jail to ensure that detainee checks are done accurately and cannot be falsified. The jail agreed to ensure that there is a duty nurse or emergency medical technician on all shifts.
For the 2017 legislative session, Texas State Representative Garnet Coleman has introduced legislation titled The Sandra Bland Act. The Bill will address protocols for dealing with mental health issues in the criminal justice system, and look for ways to divert people to treatment over incarceration and emphasize police de-escalation. Coleman stated “It’s real important that we don’t let someone’s death go in vain.”
By not arguing whether or not Sandra committed suicide, her family is pursuing changes to jail rules and procedures that will help all inmates.
Video of Sandra’s arrest;
Sandra’s mom and family attorney speaks about the settlement;