The mysterious death of Sandra Bland: New show delves into life and murky death of activist arrested for refusing to put out a cigarette
28-year-old Sandra Bland was pulled over for a traffic violation by State Trooper Brian Encinia who was fired and charged with perjury for making a false statement
On July 13, 2015, a young African-American woman was found hanging in her jail cell in Waller County, Texas. The woman, 28-year-old Sandra Bland, had been arrested during a traffic stop just three days before her body was discovered in the cell. Her death was subsequently ruled as a suicide but, for the authorities in the state and around the country, Bland's death was the start of something they never would have seen coming.
After the young woman was found dead in her cell, the authorities released dashcam footage of her arrest and the state erupted in protests against her arrest. Disputes arose over the actual cause of death and there were also many allegations of racial violence against her.
A new documentary Say Her Name: The Life And Death of Sandra Bland that is set to air on HBO on December 3 looks into the chain of events that led to the young political activist's death. Three days before she died, Bland was pulled over for a traffic violation by State Trooper Brian Encinia.
The pair had a heated exchange which escalated and resulted in Bland being arrested and charged for assaulting a police officer. The arrest had also been partially recorded on Encinia's dashcam and was also captured on cell phone footage taken by a bystander. After the authorities went through the dashcam footage from the State Trooper's vehicle, he was placed on administrative leave because he failed to follow the proper traffic stop procedures.
Authorities in Texas, along with the FBI, conducted an investigation into the young woman's death and came to the conclusion that the Waller County jail did not follow the required policies. This includes time checks on the inmates and making sure that employees have all completed the required mental health training.
In December 2015, a grand jury refused to indict the county sheriff and the jail staff for a felony related to Bland's dead. In January the following year, Encinia was indicted for perjury after he made incorrect statements about the events that surrounded the young woman's arrest. He was subsequently fired by the Texas Department of Public Safety.
After the news of her death brought a whole lot of controversy to the authorities, the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) decided to release the dashcam footage of her arrest on July 21. Parts of the video looked like they were edited but the audio of Encinia's voice went on uninterrupted. A spokesperson for the department said that the video had some technical issues when it was being posted and they took it down before replacing it with another version.
The footage clearly shows Encinia only writing a routine traffic violation warning for the young woman. Everything was going fine and the State Trooper walks back to his car when he speaks to her again briefly. He asks her to put out her cigarette to which she replies: "Why do I have to put out a cigarette when I'm in my own car?" That's when Encinia orders Bland to "get out of the car". When she refuses to do so repeatedly, he tells her that she is under arrest.
Bland can then be heard asking why she is under arrest to which Encinia says: "I am giving you a lawful order." The young woman refuses to leave the car even then stating that she cannot be under arrest because she is not aware of the reason so she isn't obliged to.
Encinia opens her car door and tells her more than a dozen times to get out and even tries to pull Bland out of the car. After he struggles for some time, he pulls out his Taser, points it at her and shouts: "I will light you up! Get out! Now!" Bland finally gets out of the car.
The DPS stated that Bland had been arrested because she kicked the State Trooper. The 28-year-old was charged with assaulting a public servant. The department said that she "became argumentative and uncooperative" when she was being arrested.
The officers took her to the Waller County Jail and put her in a cell by herself because they deemed she was a high risk to others. Bland's bail was set at $5,000. Three days after he arrest, and before anyone could bail her out of jail, Bland was found hanging in her cell in an apparent suicide.
A county grand jury declined to issue an indictment into Bland's death in December 2015. A special prosecutor at that time said that "the case is still open" and that the grand jury would meet in January 2016 to discuss it further.
The aspects to be discussed included Encinia's actions on the day of Bland's arrest as well as Bland's family urging prosecutors to file criminal charges against him. When the grand jury met the following month, they indicted Encinia for perjury, which is a Class A misdemeanor with a possible penalty of one year in jail and a $4,000 fine.
The charge came from Encinia's statement in the affidavit that the reason he removed Bland from her vehicle was "to further conduct a safe traffic investigation".
According to a special prosecutor, the grand jury found this statement to be false. Only hours after the indictment was announced, the DPS said they had begun the process to terminate Encinia's employment.
Then, on June 28, 2017, a judge granted a motion that was filed by prosecutors to dismiss the perjury charges against the State Trooper. In return for this, Encinia agreed that he would "never seek, accept or engage in employment in any capacity with law enforcement". The man also agreed that he wouldn't look to expunge the perjury charge.
Catch "Say Her Name: The Life And Death of Sandra Bland" on HBO on December 3.