New video shows Sandra Bland was not engaging in dangerous behavior and agencies must be held accountable, says civil rights expert
28-year-old Bland was found dead in her jail cell in Waller County, Houston three days after she was pulled over by Texas state trooper Brian Encinia in June 2015
A newly discovered video that was shot by Sandra Bland shows, from her perspective, exactly what happened during the infamous traffic stop when she was pulled over by Texas state trooper Brian Encinia in June 2015.
Just three days after the traffic stop, 28-year-old Bland was found dead in her jail cell in Waller County, Houston.
As per a statement from the Waller County Sheriff's Office, she was found dead in her cell "not breathing from what appears to be self-inflicted asphyxiation".
Up until now, Bland's death had been written off as suicide. However, the newly discovered footage provides a different perspective on the matter. It also raises suspicion that officials had held back evidence about her questionable arrest and subsequent death.
During the traffic stop, State Trooper Encinia demanded that Bland put out her cigarette, which she refused to do. Soon, what had initially been a warning for a simple traffic violation turned into what looked like an unconstitutional arrest and an unnecessary escalation of a situation.
According to Andre Segura, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Texas, "In a time where public transparency and trust in law enforcement is at its breaking point, the Texas Department of Public Safety should have immediately and voluntarily released Sandra Bland’s phone recording to the public."
"Recording an officer is a constitutional right; not a crime warranting threats. This new video presents Ms. Bland’s own view of the officer’s severe misconduct, including needlessly escalating the situation, misuse of a taser gun, and threatening language. Most importantly, it shows that Ms. Bland was not engaging in dangerous behavior. Sandra Bland should still be alive today. We must continue to hold agencies accountable to the very public they swore to protect," Segura added.
Steve Silverman, the executive director of a nonprofit legal education organization 'Flex Your Rights', called Encinia's demand "technically legal but completely unnecessary" and also says that it's "largely a consequence of a bad 1977 supreme court ruling that few people have heard of."
The supreme court ruling stated that police can legally order stopped motorists out of their cars and described the request as "at most, a mere inconvenience” which the court said, "cannot prevail when balanced against legitimate concerns for the officer’s safety."
Silverman believes that this ruling has "contributed to many unnecessary and avoidable escalations where police forcibly remove motorists from their vehicles simply because they talked back or were too afraid to exit."
The new footage was released by WFAA in partnership with the Investigative Network and has reignited the Bland family's suspicion that Texas officials held back vital evidence.
Bland's sister Shante Needham told MEA WorldWide: "We wish we had control over the criminal investigation. We NEVER did. This video is confirmation that the special prosecutors could have prosecuted former officer Brian Encinia but chose to cut a deal."
"As a result, we've been made to move on. We can't tell you how proud we are that we've managed to do that through sheer will and determination," Needham added. "This serves as our family's formal response to the WFAA segment that aired yesterday evening which focused on new cellphone footage that shows what Sandra experienced during her unlawful arrest four years ago leading to her wrongful death while in police custody."
"This is why it's so incredibly important for you to watch HBO's 'Say Her Name: The Life & Death of Sandra Bland' to learn more about our personal journey. #shareworthy," she continued.
The Texas Department of Public Safety officials has since said that the video was not withheld.
The DPS released a statement which read, "The premise that the video was not produced as a part of the discovery process is wrong. 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."