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7:43 PM / Wednesday August 10, 2022

6 Aug 2015

Sandra Bland’s family sues state trooper, wants answers

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August 6, 2015 Category: Week In Review Posted by:

ABOVE PHOTO:  Attorney Cannon Lambert, left, along with Sandra Bland’s mother, Geneva Reed-Veal, center, and sister Sierra Cole hold a news conference, Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2015, in Houston. Bland was found dead in a Texas county jail three days after a confrontation with a white state trooper. The family filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against the officer and other officials, saying it was a last resort after being unable to get enough information about the case. (AP Photo/Pat Sullivan)

By Michael Graczyk

Associated Press

HOUSTON — The family of a black woman found dead in a Texas jail three days after a confrontation with a white state trooper filed a wrongful-death lawsuit Tuesday against the officer and other officials, saying it was a last resort after being unable to get enough information about the case.

Bland, a 28-year-old Chicago-area woman, was found dead in her Waller County jail cell in Hempstead on July 13. Her family and others have criticized Trooper Brian Encinia, who stopped Bland for failing to signal a lane change. Video of the stop shows the confrontation quickly escalated after Encinia asked Bland to put out her cigarette.

“This family’s motivation is that they don’t want to see this sort of thing happen again to another family,” attorney Cannon Lambert said during a news conference in Houston.

Lambert expressed dismay that Encinia remains on administrative leave rather than being fired by the Texas Department of Public Safety. The trooper, on the force for just over a year, has been placed on administrative leave for violating unspecified police procedures and the department’s courtesy policy.

“We are asking for bold, decisive action,” he added. “The fact that it hasn’t happened yet is a frustrating thing.”

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Bland’s mother, Geneva Reed-Veal, holding a Bible during the news conference, said the events that led to her daughter’s death began with an unwarranted traffic stop.

Sandra Bland

In this undated photo provided by the Bland family, Sandra Bland poses for a photo. Bland, a black 28-year-old from suburban Chicago, was found dead in jail on July 13, 2015. Texas authorities have said Bland hanged herself with a garbage bag, a finding that her family disputes. She was in custody after a traffic stop for failing to use a turn signal escalated into a physical confrontation with a white state trooper. (Courtesy of Bland family, File)

“The bottom line is she never should have been inside the jail cell. Period,” she said.

Lambert called on the Department of Justice to launch its own investigation, saying the case needs a fresh and unbiased look. He said information the family has received from law enforcement has been inconsistent, which raises concerns about what has and hasn’t been given to them.

County and state officials have released findings of an autopsy, surveillance video showing Bland being booked into the jail, her jail intake records and other material.

Authorities said Bland hanged herself inside her jail cell. Her family has questioned that finding but on Tuesday acknowledged the possibility.

“In the face of Sandy being the light that she was, it is very difficult for them to get their minds around the notion that she would hurt herself,” Lambert said. “At the same time, this family is aware of the possibility.”

“I am still confident in the fact that she knew enough about Jesus that she would not take herself out,” Reed-Veal said. “Anything is possible. I wasn’t there. But as a mother, my inner is telling me that she did not do that. Now I’m the first one to tell you, if the facts … show without a doubt that that was the case, I’ll have to be prepared to deal with that.”

The lawsuit names the Texas Department of Public Safety, Encinia, the Waller County Sheriff’s Office and two jailers. The 46-page lawsuit seeks a jury trial for unspecified damages.

The Department of Public Safety said in a statement that it had not received notice of the lawsuit “and we do not discuss potential or pending litigation.” Calls to Waller County District Attorney Elton Mathis and other county officials were not immediately returned.

Bland was in Prairie View, northwest of Houston, when she was stopped July 10 for a minor traffic infraction. Dashcam video shows the confrontation swiftly escalated after she objected to being told to put out her cigarette. Encinia at one point is seen holding a stun gun as he says, “I will light you up!” after Bland refuses to get out of her car. Bland eventually was arrested for allegedly assaulting the trooper.

Bland’s death came after nearly a year of heightened national scrutiny of police and their dealings with black suspects, especially those who have been killed by officers or die in police custody.

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