Editor's note: This story has been clarified to explain that Brian Encinia's legal team has not yet decided whether to ask a judge to quash his indictment or to seek a change of venue.
Attorneys representing former Texas Department of Public Safety trooper Brian Encinia, accused of perjury in connection with his controversial 2015 arrest of Sandra Bland, hope to decide by late January whether to ask a judge to throw out his indictment. They're also considering asking that any trial be moved out of Waller County because of the publicity it's drawn, one of Encinia's attorneys said.
Encinia was indicted in January for allegedly lying in the report he filed on Bland's arrest.
Encinia stopped Bland – who failed to signal a lane change – on July 10, 2015 in Prairie View. Their conversation soon became heated, ending with Bland on the ground and under arrest for assaulting a public servant. The 28-year-old Illinois woman was found dead in her Waller County jail cell three days later. Her death has been ruled a suicide by hanging.
A Tuesday status hearing on the case before state District Judge Albert McCaig Jr. was canceled because part of Encinia's legal team wasn't available. The hearing has been rescheduled for January. Encinia attorney Larkin Eakin Jr. said his side is considering pushing for a new venue and for the grand jury's indictment to be quashed. No such motions have been filed yet, he said.
Bland's arrest and death drew national attention, in part due to the video of the traffic stop recorded by a dashboard camera inside Encinia's patrol car. In the video, the former trooper opens Bland's driver's side door and reaches in for her. She refuses to come out, and Encinia threatens to use a Taser on her.
But in his report, Encinia wrote: "I had Bland exit the vehicle to further conduct a safe traffic investigation." A Waller County grand jury focused on that statement before indicting Encinia on a charge of perjury, a Class A misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail and a $4,000 fine.
Eakin has said the state can't prove beyond reasonable doubt that Encinia intended to deceive when he wrote the statement.
Cannon Lambert, an attorney for Bland's family, said the dashboard camera video shows that Encinia lied in his report about why he had Bland exit her car.
"I don't feel there's anything in the video that would support the basis that he offered for stopping her," Lambert said, "and it's clear that there are inconsistencies that he should be held to account for."
In September, Bland's mother, Geneva Reed-Veal, settled her wrongful death lawsuit against Encinia, Waller County and several of its employees for $1.9 million and agreed upon policy changes. Encinia, who was fired by DPS after his indictment, is challenging his termination, a fight one of his attorneys said will likely move forward after the criminal case is settled.
Read more Sandra Bland coverage:
- Texas Troopers, Austin Police Will Make Complaining Easier – The two law enforcement agencies say they will start adding information on filing complaints to the citations they issue.
- Texas Senator Wants Teens To Learn What to Do During Police Stops – Could the police-civilian divide be healed with new civics lessons and traffic stop guidelines from the state?
- Sandra Bland's Family Settles Wrongful Death Lawsuit – The fight began on July 10, 2015, when former Department of Public Safety Trooper Brian Encinia stopped Bland, a 28-year-old woman from Illinois, near the Prairie View A&M University campus for failing to properly signal a lane change. After a heated argument, the trooper arrested Bland for assaulting a public servant. Three days later, she was found hanged in her cell at Waller County Jail. Her death was ruled a suicide.
- DPS Director: Sandra Bland Escalation Trooper's Fault – Texas Department of Public Safety director Steve McCraw said in January that former trooper Brian Encinia acted unprofessionally and violated protocol when he stopped Sandra Bland.