Indicted Trooper Surrenders, Will Plead Not Guilty
Texas Department of Public Safety Trooper Brian Encinia, indicted Wednesday on a perjury charge related to his arrest of Sandra Bland, surrendered to Texas Rangers Thursday afternoon and was taken to the Waller County Jail.
Editor's note: This story has been updated throughout.
Texas Department of Public Safety Trooper Brian Encinia, indicted Wednesday on a perjury charge related to his arrest of Sandra Bland, surrendered to Texas Rangers Thursday afternoon and was taken to the Waller County Jail where he was released after posting bond, Waller County authorities said.
Encinia plans to plead not guilty to the perjury charge, according to his attorney. If convicted of the Class A misdemeanor, he could face up to a year in the Waller County Jail and a $4,000 fine.
Encinia came under fire after stopping Bland near the Prairie View A&M University campus on July 10, 2015, when she failed to properly signal a lane change. After a heated argument, Encinia arrested Bland for assaulting a public servant.
Bland was found hanged in her Waller County Jail cell three days later, and her death has been ruled a suicide. A Waller County grand jury in December chose not to indict anyone in Bland's death, but the panel indicted the trooper for perjury based on conflicts between his written report and dashboard camera footage of the arrest.
State District Judge Judge Albert M. McCaig Jr. signed an arrest warrant for Encinia Thursday morning, the Waller County Clerk confirmed. Encinia's attorney Larkin Eakin Jr. told The Texas Tribune that the trooper will plead not guilty.
"They're going to have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that those words used were intended to deceive, and honestly, he does not feel, nor do I, that they are deceptive," Eakin said. "I mean, it was for officer safety. One types up a probable cause statement right after you deliver the prisoner to the jailhouse, and you don't go into as much detail as you go into when you do your formal statement or testify even."
"No expert that I've ever had ever went exactly by his report," Eakin said. "And no officer or defense witness ever testifies exactly as they've written down. They're going to have to show that he intended to commit perjury, and I don't think they can do that with a fair jury."
"It was a tragedy, that Ms. Bland is deceased, but — a genuine tragedy," he said before pausing, "but we have to focus on what we have now."
Bland's arrest and subsequent death drew national attention, in part due to the video of the traffic stop recorded by a camera inside Encinia's patrol car. In the video, Encinia can be seen opening Bland's driver's side door and reaching in for her. She refuses to come out and the trooper threatens to use a Taser on her.
But in Encinia's report, he wrote: "I had Bland exit the vehicle to further conduct a safe traffic investigation." Special prosecutor Darrell Jordan confirmed that was the statement grand jurors keyed in on.
DPS said in a statement Wednesday night that it will fire Encinia.
Bland family attorney Cannon Lambert said on Wednesday night that he and his clients don't understand why it took six months to reach the indictment.
"His lies were captured on camera and available in six days," Lambert told the Tribune.
Encinia also should have been charged for assault and battery, the attorney said.
"They feel toyed with," Lambert said. "They feel disrespected."
DPS chief Steve McCraw has said Encinia violated several protocols when engaging Bland, but the agency and the trooper's attorney say they are immune to a federal lawsuit under the 11th Amendment, which broadly protects states and their institutions from being sued by individuals in federal courts.
Bland’s mother, Geneva Reed-Veal, is suing Encinia, the Department of Public Safety, Waller County and two jailers who interacted with her daughter, claiming that Bland was denied her constitutional rights, which led to her death. The wrongful death case, filed in federal court in Houston, is set for trial in early 2017.
Encinia will continue to be represented in the federal suit by a state attorney, Eakin said.
ReferenceDPS Trooper Brian Encinia's Affidavit on Sandra Bland Traffic Stop
Quality journalism doesn't come free
Perhaps it goes without saying — but producing quality journalism isn't cheap. At a time when newsroom resources and revenue across the country are declining, The Texas Tribune remains committed to sustaining our mission: creating a more engaged and informed Texas with every story we cover, every event we convene and every newsletter we send. As a nonprofit newsroom, we rely on members to help keep our stories free and our events open to the public. Do you value our journalism? Show us with your support.Yes, I'll donate today