Two Texas lawmakers said Sandra Bland should have never been arrested after watching the video of the traffic stop taken from the Texas Department of Public Safety trooper’s car that was shown in a closed door meeting with Waller County officials before being released to the public late Tuesday.
“I think that once you see what occurred, you will probably agree with me she did not deserve to be placed in custody,” said state Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas.
State. Rep. Helen Giddings, D-DeSoto, concurred: “This young woman should be alive today.”
West and Giddings were among about a dozen state leaders including Texas DPS Director Steve McCraw and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick who met with Waller County Sheriff Glenn Smith, District Attorney Elton Mathis and other members of the local community to review the long-awaited dash cam video that recorded Trooper Brian Encinia arresting Bland on July 10. Bland was initially stopped for a minor traffic infraction: a failure to use a turn signal while changing lanes on University Drive in Prairie View, less than a mile from the campus of her alma mater, Prairie View A&M University.
Three days after the arrest, Bland, who is black, was found hanged to death inside the Waller County Jail. The death has sparked outrage in Texas, the nation and worldwide for what many see as the latest case of white police harassment of a black citizen. Encinia has been put on administrative duty in Houston, reassigned after his superiors, including McCraw, viewed the patrol car video.
The high-profile group met at Prairie View A&M University at the College of Juvenile Justice and Psychology for more than two hours. Participants who spoke on background with The Texas Tribune said both Waller County officials and McCraw walked the group through video captured outside the jail cell where Bland was confined and the arrest video that many lawmakers had asked to be released. The tone inside the meeting, participants said, was not defensive, but collaborative, as if everyone were trying to determine how exactly a 28-year-old from the Chicago area ended up dead in a jail cell after a minor traffic infraction.
The group emerged, somber but hesitant to point fingers at DPS.
“A young woman, Sandra Bland, is dead from a routine traffic stop,” said state Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston. “People are still asking whether or not black lives matter. And I think it’s important for us to respond: ‘They do.’”
West emphasized that the case is going to a grand jury to decide whether Bland was murdered or died, as the Harris County medical examiner has already ruled, of a suicide.
Patrick urged the public to give investigators — the FBI and the Texas Rangers — time to thoroughly investigate the case.
“The message we are sending here in Texas is the way any case like this should be handled anywhere in the country and that is to be sure that every question is asked and every question is answered,” Patrick said. “So at the end the facts lead us to the truth.”
But the lieutenant governor was quick to chide members of the media he believes are urging a rush to judgment.
“We’re going to find the truth wherever it leads,” Patrick said.
The video released after the news conference shows Encinia losing his temper with Bland when she refuses to put out her cigarette when he tells her to and refuses to come out of her Hyundai when told to do so.
“Get out of the car, now!,” he shouts at Bland before opening the car door, grabbing her and trying to force her out. He is seen threatening to use his Taser on her to get her to come out. “I will light you up!,” he shouts.
The video shocked civil rights attorney Jim Harrington, director of the Texas Civil Rights Project.
“That was really outrageous. I was really stunned,” he said. “Man, he did everything wrong.”
Harrington said motorists do have to get out of a vehicle when asked by an officer, but the way Encinia went about it — and the fact he was only doing so after she refused to put a cigarette out — was problematic.
“The problem here is, he’s the one who escalated everything,” Harrington said. “Dragging her out of the car is crazy.”
The probe into Bland’s death is now being given the depth of a murder investigation, Mathis, the district attorney, said Monday at a news conference.
After viewing the video, Mathis said Bland was not “compliant” with Encinia’s directions.
“Sandra Bland was very combative. It was not a model traffic stop. It was not a model person that was stopped,” Mathis said.
Encinia said Bland became “combative” with him after he pulled her over for an improper lane change, according to the arrest report released Tuesday.
“Bland began swinging her elbows at me and then kicked my right leg in the shin,” Encinia wrote in the report. “I had a pain in my right leg and suffered small cuts on my right hand. Force was used to subdue Bland to the ground to which Bland continued to fight back.”
Bland’s autopsy has been completed, but the report has not been finished and was not available midday Tuesday. Last week the Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences, which typically does autopsies for Waller County, ruled Bland’s death a suicide by hanging.
Mathis and Waller County Judge Trey Duhon met Tuesday with one of Bland’s sisters and her mother to update the family on the investigation.
“The family expressed some of their concerns and the fact that they still have many questions that need to be answered,” Duhon said in a statement. “We assured the family that everything will be provided to them so that they can get those answers.”