Few cases in Texas have proved as controversial in recent years as that of Sandra Bland. The African American woman was locked up in a Texas jail cell after an altercation with a trooper. She took her life three days after her arrest.
The Bland case led to changes in the law and questions over police stops. It took a dramatic new twist this week when a cellphone video of the traffic stop unexpectedly emerged.
The revelation that evidence from Bland’s cellphone exists took her family and attorney by surprise. It raises a wider issue over potential suppression of evidence in criminal and civil cases. Trooper Brian Encinia’s dashcam footage was believed to be the only existing recording of the now infamous July 2015 traffic stop. Encinia pulled over Bland for failing to signal a lane change. She was arrested for assaulting a public servant. Encinia maintained that he feared for his safety during the stop.
Bland was found hanging in her cell in Waller County three days later. Her death almost four years ago was ruled a suicide.
The cellphone footage showed Encinia pointing a Taser at Bland and yelling “I will light you up!”
The new footage released as part of a WFAA exclusive in a partnership with the Investigative Network — has bolstered the Bland family’s suspicions that officials in Texas withheld evidence in her controversial arrest and, later, on after her death.
In the video, Encinia opened Bland’s car door and drew his taser as the Chicago-area woman studied her phone’s camera. The trooper ordered her out of the car.
Bland exited the car and continued to record the trooper as he ordered her onto the sidewalk. When Encinia told her to get off the phone Bland replied: “I’m not on the phone. I have a right to record. This is my property.”
The video ended before the encounter concluded. An attorney for the Bland family who settled lawsuits against the state and county jail for almost $2 million said he never saw the clip before it was shared by a reporter.
Democratic state Rep. Garnet Coleman said it was troubling that the evidence recently came to light.
Coleman drew up the “Sandra Bland Act.” While the legislation addressed the mental health needs of people held in cells in Texas, it was criticized by the Bland family for being weakened before it was signed into law. Provisions to reign in police officers during traffic stops were removed from the legislation.
The original bill tackled racial profiling by police officers during traffic stops. It supported consent searches and counseling for police officers who profiled drivers, as well as jail reforms.
That bill met with opposition from law enforcement groups. A Senate version became a mental health bill, which ultimately passed both chambers without opposition.
Members of Bland’s family said the legislation was a missed opportunity that stripped out language relevant to Bland’s stop.
Coleman was concerned about the appearance of new evidence four years after Bland’s death.
“It is troubling that a crucial piece of evidence was withheld from Sandra Bland’s family and legal team in their pursuit of justice,” Coleman said in a statement.
The Texas Department of Public Safety said the cellphone video was known to all parties at the time. The department disputed claims that the video was not provided, saying it was part of a hard drive of evidence from the investigation.
The tragic case of Sandra Bland highlights the importance of knowing your rights during a police traffic stop. Evidence like cellphone video can be very important but the prosecution may conceal it. It’s vital to hire an experienced Dallas criminal defense lawyer in these cases. Call us at (214) 720-9552.