Department of Public Safety Trooper Brian Encinia will appeal his firing and disputes the allegation that he perjured himself, his attorney told The Texas Tribune.
DPS began the process of firing the trooper Wednesday, the same day a Waller County grand jury indicted him on a perjury charge related to his arrest of Sandra Bland.
Encinia drew national attention 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 later indicted the trooper for perjury based on conflicts between his written report and dashboard camera footage of the arrest. 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 said Wednesday that was the statement grand jurors keyed in on.
Encinia plans to plead not guilty, his attorney, Larkin Eakin Jr., said.
"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."
Just because he didn't use the exact same words from his report does not mean the trooper perjured himself, Eakin said.
"They're going to have to show that he intended to commit perjury," Eakin said, "and I don't think they can do that with a fair jury."
Encinia surrendered to Texas Rangers on Thursday and was booked at Waller County Jail. He posted bond shortly after arriving, according to the Waller County Sheriff's Office.
If convicted of the Class A misdemeanor, he could face up to a year in the Waller County Jail and a $4,000 fine.
DPS employees who are also commissioned officers, like Encinia, are allowed to appeal their termination to the Public Safety Commission, which would then hold a public hearing on the matter. If the commission upholds the firing, the employee can then take his or her case to a state district court.
The decision to fire Encinia was up to DPS director Steve McCraw under the department's rules. McCraw has said Encinia violated several protocols when engaging Bland.
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.
Reed-Veal alleges that Encinia assaulted and battered Bland. Family attorney Cannon Lambert said Encinia deserves more than a perjury charge.
"His lies were captured on camera and available in six days," Lambert told the Tribune Wednesday. "They feel toyed with. They feel disrespected."
Encinia will continue to be represented in the federal suit by a state attorney.
No dates have been set yet for Encinia's criminal case, Eakin said.