The death of an African American woman in a Texas police cell in 2015 has paved the way for a new bill in the state legislature that would change police procedure.
Lawmakers have made 14 recommendations that could form the basis of the Sandra Bland Act, reported the Texas Tribune.
The recommendations were drawn up by Texas House County Affairs Committee.
Its report to lawmakers suggests sweeping changes that include improving the training of police officers to stop situations escalating, improved mental illness awareness, more jail-to-treatment diversion programs and the elimination of consent searches during stops.
The Bland case shocked the public and the law enforcement world in Texas because a woman who ended up in a police cell after a traffic infraction, later took her own life.
Former Texas Department of Public Safety trooper Brian Encinia stopped Bland in Prairie View in 2015. The 28-year-old woman from Illinois failed to signal a lane change.
What should have been a routine citation quickly escalated. A conversation with the officer became heated and Bland was arrested for assaulting a public servant.
Bland was found dead in her Waller County Jail cell three days after her arrest. The death led to a national outcry about the conditions in jails across the country. Bland’s death was ruled a suicide by hanging.
The Tribune reported legislation filed by Rep. Garnet Coleman to address race, mental health, poverty and the accountability of law enforcement and correctional officers will be the foundation for the Sandra Bland Act.
Coleman was the County Affairs chairman last session. He said the facts of Bland’s death were a starting point for reform.
While it’s legal to be arrested for a traffic violation or for a stop like Bland’s, Coleman said it makes little sense for it to be escalated to an arrest.
If a driver’s light is out, or they briefly cross a yellow line the law says they are jailable offenses.
“We have to remove that from the statute,” Coleman said.
The committee also proposes eliminating consent searches and upping the threshold for traffic stops to something higher than the “probable cause” and “reasonable suspicion,” grounds that are presently used.
Kevin Lawrence, executive director of the Texas Municipal Police Association, said his organization would fight these proposed changes.
Encinia is facing a perjury charge after a Waller County grand jury identified a discrepancy between what his official report said about why Sandra Bland stepped out of her car and evidence from the dashboard camera footage.
If you are concerned about your arrest please contact a Dallas criminal defense lawyer.