Sandra Bland's Family Demands Renewed Investigation After New Video Emerges
|thenorthstar||May 10, 2019|
New cellphone footage from the traffic stop that led to Sandra Bland’s arrest was released on May 6, prompting calls to reopen the investigation into her death. Bland, a 28-year-old Black woman from the Chicago area, was taken into custody in southeast Texas after a confrontational traffic stop in July 2015. Three days later, she was found hanging in a jail cell in what was officially ruled a suicide. The video, taken from Bland’s perspective, shows Texas state trooper Brian Encinia angrily pointing a Taser at Bland during a traffic stop in Waller County and yelling, “I will light you up!” Encinia pulled Bland over after she failed to use her turn signal when changing lanes. Authorities released Encinia’s dashcam video days after Bland’s death, but her cellphone recording was not yet released until recently. The 39-second video was kept by investigators and released to the Investigative Network, a nonprofit investigative journalism network focused on digital content, after the criminal investigation closed, WFAA reported. The video was found two months after Bland’s death by the Texas Rangers and the FBI during a joint investigation into Bland's arrest and subsequent death in police custody. The Bland family maintains they were never given the footage and have called for the investigation against Encinia to be re-opened. “Open up the case, period,” Bland’s sister, Shante Needham, told WFAA after being shown the video. Bland’s family believe that the video was intentionally withheld. “We also know they have an extremely, extremely good cover-up system,” Needham continued. The Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) did not immediately respond to The North Star’s request for comment. However, in a statement to The New York Times, the department claimed the cellphone footage was referenced “multiple times” in its investigative report on the incident and that it was made available to the parties involved in a lawsuit filed by Bland’s family. “The premise that the video was not produced as part of the discovery process is wrong,” the department told WFAA. “A hard drive containing copies of 820 gigabytes of data compiled by DPS from its investigation, including the dashcam videos, jail video footage and data from Sandra Bland’s cell phone, was part of discovery.” The Bland family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Waller County and Texas DPS. The lawsuit was settled in 2016, and the family awarded $1.9 million. They were also required to return all evidence given to them as part of the federal court proceedings. Bland family attorney Cannon Lambert, who could not be reached for comment, contradicted DPS’ claim in a statement to WFAA. Lambert said the video was not produced during discovery and maintained he had not seen the video until shown by the Investigative Network. “If they had turned it over, I would have seen it,” Lambert told Investigative Network CEO and chief reporter Brian Collister. “I’ve not seen that.” Lambert told The New York Times that the new video contradicts Encinia’s claim that he feared for his safety as he approached Bland in her vehicle. “The video shows that he wasn’t in fear of his safety,” he said. “You could see that it was a cellphone. He was looking right at it.” During internal interviews with DPS officials, Encinia said that his “safety was in jeopardy at more than one time.” Encinia was indicted on a charge of perjury after grand jurors accused him of making a false statement regarding his reasons for removing Bland from her car. The indictment is the only criminal charge in the case and was dismissed by prosecutors after Encinia promised to never work in law enforcement again, The New York Times reported. “[The video] not only shows that [Encinia] lied, but that he really had no business even stopping her, period,” Needham said. “And at the end of the day, he needs to go to jail.”
About the Author
Nicole Rojas is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has published in various venues, including Newsweek, GlobalPost, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, and the Long Island Post. Nicole graduated from Boston University in 2012 with a degree in print journalism. She is an avid world traveler who recently explored Asia and Australia.