The family of Sandra Bland, the 28-year-old woman found hanged in a Texas jail cell three days after she was arrested during a traffic stop, is calling for her case to be reopened following the release of previously undisclosed cellphone video.
Investigators discovered video of Bland’s 2015 traffic stop confrontation with a state trooper on her cellphone two months after her death, but never informed the public of its existence, reported the Dallas station WFAA. The outlet unearthed the video in partnership with the nonprofit Investigative Network.
The cellphone video shows Trooper Brian Encinia, who is white, angrily threatening Bland, a black woman, with a stun gun after pulling her over for failing to signal while turning.
“Get out of the car!” the officer shouts at Bland as he points a Taser toward her. “I will light you up. Get out. Now.”
Bland was stopped on July 10, 2015, while driving near Prairie View A&M University in Waller County, about 50 miles northwest of Houston. She was charged with suspicion of assaulting a public servant and jailed. Three days later, she was found dead in her cell. Her death was ruled suicide.
Police car dashcam video released early in the investigation captured much of the roadside confrontation, including the trooper’s threat to “light you up.” But the cellphone footage shows how the exchange looked from Bland’s perspective, with Encinia thrusting a stun gun in her face and threatening to drag her out her car.
In her video, Bland can be heard asking the trooper why she’s being arrested for a traffic violation, and telling him she has a right to record the exchange after he orders her to put her phone down.
“You doin’ all of this for a failure to signal?” Bland asks as Encinia orders her out of the car and onto the sidewalk, continuing to point the Taser at her.
The 39-second video calls into question 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 [prosecutors] would be using that video,” Cannon Lambert, the Bland family’s attorney, told The New York Times.
Encinia was fired from the Texas Department of Public Safety in March 2016. He was indicted by a grand jury on a perjury charge, but the charge was later dropped in exchange for Encinia agreeing never to work in law enforcement again.
Bland’s arrest and subsequent death sparked protests nationwide over police violence and the systemic oppression of communities of color. “Say Her Name,” a reference to Bland, became a trademark chant of Black Lives Matter activists.
In response to her case, the Texas Senate passed the Sandra Bland Act in 2017, which requires de-escalation training for all police officers, mandates that county jails divert people with mental health issues to treatment and requires that independent law enforcement agencies investigate jail deaths.
As documented in HuffPost’s jail death project, which chronicled jail deaths in the year after Bland died, suicide is the leading cause of death in jails. Experts agree that suicide is highly preventable in a jail environment.
The Department of Public Service said Bland’s cellphone video was handed over to attorneys for Bland’s family earlier, along with a large batch of evidence.
Lambert said that’s not true.
“I’ve not seen it,” Lambert told WFAA. “If they had turned it over, I would have seen it.”
Shawn McDonald, a Houston lawyer and one of five special prosecutors assigned to the grand jury investigation into Bland’s case, defended his team’s performance.
He told the Times that Bland’s video was taken as evidence during the investigation and such evidence is typically not released.
Nevertheless, prosecutors made the decision to release footage from Encinia’s dashcam early in the investigation. McDonald told the Times the police video was made public “to be transparent because of the concern everyone had with her arrest and subsequent suicide.”
Shante Needham, Bland’s sister, told WFAA that the case must be reopened in light of the newly surfaced cellphone video.
“It 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.”
Ryan J. Reilly contributed reporting.