Sandra Bland, It Turns Out, Filmed Traffic Stop Confrontation Herself – Smart Media Magazine

Sandra Bland, It Turns Out, Filmed Traffic Stop Confrontation Herself

AUSTIN, Tex. — Sandra Bland had just driven in from Illinois to start a new job in Texas when a state trooper pulled her over for failing to signal a lane change. As the exchange grew angry and the officer pulled out a stun gun, she recorded a 39-second cellphone video whose public broadcast this week has prompted calls for a renewed investigation into her arrest and death nearly four years ago.

Ms. Bland, a 28-year-old African-American from the Chicago area, was taken into custody in southeast Texas following the confrontational 2015 traffic stop and was found hanging in a jail cell three days later in what was officially ruled a suicide. The case, which drew international attention, intensified outrage over the treatment of black people by white police officers and was considered a turning point in the Black Lives Matter movement.

[The Death of Sandra Bland: Is There Anything Left to Investigate?]

The video surfaced for the first time publicly Monday night in an investigative report on the Dallas television station WFAA that included interviews with Ms. Bland’s family and supporters, who accused officials of concealing information that they said should have been made public early in the investigation.

The authorities released the trooper’s dashcam video days after Ms. Bland’s death, but Ms. Bland’s own recording was never made public — except, it appears, to lawyers and investigators involved in the case. The Texas Department of Public Safety said in a statement that the video recording was referred to “multiple times” in its investigative report on the Bland case and was released to the WFAA reporter in response to a public records request. The video “has in no way been concealed by the department,” the statement said.

The images aired Monday night marked the first time that most people had seen the traffic encounter as Ms. Bland had seen it: a close-up view of the face of the state trooper, Brian T. Encinia, contorting in anger as he pulled out a stun gun and shouted at her to get out of the car.

“I’m going to light you up!” he yelled, his voice growing hoarse.

State Representative Garnet Coleman, an African-American lawmaker who chairs the State House’s County Affairs Committee, which conducted statewide hearings following Ms. Bland’s death, said on Tuesday that he plans to call legislative hearings before the current session adjourns on May 27 to look into why the newly surfaced video was not made generally available to the public until now.

“It is very disturbing to those who have followed the case of Sandra Bland,” he said.

[Here’s what you need to know about the Sandra Bland case.]

Cannon Lambert, a lawyer who represents the Bland family, said he had not seen the video until it was shown to him by the television journalist. “I immediately called my co-counsel and asked whether he had seen it, and he hadn’t seen it either,” he said.

Ms. Bland’s death in a largely rural part of southeast Texas unified African-American leaders throughout the state, leading to the enactment in 2017 of the Sandra Bland Act, which requires training in de-escalation techniques for all police officers, sets up protections in custody for people with mental health and substance abuse issues, and requires that independent law enforcement agencies investigate jail deaths.

State lawmakers are looking at going even further. A bill facing a likely vote in the House this week, introduced by Representative James White, an African-American Republican from Dallas, would largely ban arrests for Class C misdemeanors such as traffic stops that would be punishable only by fines, except in certain circumstances. Mr. Coleman is a co-sponsor of the bill.

Ms. Bland was one of five sisters who grew up in a Chicago suburb before she left for Texas to attend Prairie View A&M University near Hempstead, the state’s self-proclaimed watermelon capital. She graduated with a degree in agriculture in 2009, returned to Illinois, and had come back to Texas to start a job at her alma mater when the fateful traffic stop occurred and quickly grew heated.

After the trooper told her to “get off the phone,” Ms. Bland responded: “I’m not on the phone. I have a right to record. This is my property.”

“Put your phone down,” Mr. Encinia repeated. “Put your phone down right now.”

The video was released by WFAA in partnership with the nonprofit Investigative Network. Members of Ms. Bland’s family called on Texas officials to re-examine the case after journalists showed them the video, according to the WFAA report.

“Open up the case, period,” Ms. Bland’s sister, Shante Needham, told the station. “We know they have an extremely, extremely good cover-up system.”

Mr. Lambert, the family’s lawyer, told The Times that the release of the video raised questions about prosecutors’ decision not to press ahead with the perjury case, saying the recording undercut Mr. Encinia’s claim that he feared for his safety.

“So if the video showed that he had no basis of being in fear of his safety, and he lied about that, then you would think they would be using that video,” he said, calling prosecutors’ decision not pursue the case “extremely troubling.”

A team of five special prosecutors was assigned to the grand jury investigation. One of the team members, Shawn McDonald, a Houston lawyer, said on Monday that he was not involved in the decision to drop the charges and pushed back at Mr. Lambert’s criticism of the team’s performance.

“For him to come back three years later is frankly quite ridiculous,” said Mr. McDonald, who added that he was “proud” of the investigation into the case.

Mr. McDonald said he first saw Ms. Bland’s video more than three years ago. “It was her cellphone, so it was taken as evidence when we investigated the case,” he said.

Evidence typically was not released, he said, though a decision was made to release the trooper’s video shortly after the case began unfolding in an effort “to be transparent because of the concern everyone had with her arrest and subsequent suicide.”

Chip Lewis, a Houston lawyer who represented Mr. Encinia in the investigation, said his client was in a new career “wholly unrelated” to law enforcement, but he offered few details. “He’s working in the private sector, supporting his wife and family and living a quiet life,” Mr. Lewis said.

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