In the wake of a grand jury’s indictment for misdemeanor perjury of the Texas state trooper who pulled over 28-year-old Naperville resident Sandra Bland last July, Bland’s family says they are incredulous at what they see as no more than a slap on the wrist.
“Are you kidding me?” Bland’s mother, Geneva Reed-Veal, exclaimed at a press conference Thursday at the Loop offices of the family’s attorneys. “Where is the true indictment? Where is the indictment for the assault, the battery, the false arrest? Where is that?”
Trooper Brian Encinia arrested Bland on July 10, 2015, and took her to jail. She was found hanging by a plastic garbage bag around her neck in a jail cell on July 13, in an apparent suicide. He was indicted Wednesday in the case assigned to special prosecutors. The only bright spot in the announcement was Encinia’s firing, the Bland family said.
“I don’t think the gentleman needs to be out on the street any further, to infect anyone else’s life,” Reed-Veal said, visibly angry, and at times choking up. “You hear about these cases and these officers are put on administrative leave. Well guess what? My daughter and all these other victims aren’t on administrative leave. They’re gone.”
Having learned of the indictment through the media — while still embroiled in a legal battle with Texas prosecutors over release of documents requested by their attorney — the family charged there’s a lack of transparency that mirrors the withholding of information in the fatal shooting of Laquan McDonald and other recent Chicago Police shooting cases that have rocked the city with protests.
McDonald, 17, was shot 16 times by Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke. The shooting was captured on a police dashcam video that the city withheld for over a year until a judge ordered the release of the video.
The Bland family’s federal civil suit is pending against Encinia, the Texas Department of Public Safety, Waller County and two jailers. They allege their case has been stymied in requests for documents — ranging from Encinia’s original police report to the final report issued by the Texas Rangers. Their case is set for trial on Jan. 23, 2017.
“I’m angry, and the whole world should be. You don’t indict the folks who last saw my daughter, had hand-to-hand combat with her, but I’m supposed to be excited about up to a one-year maximum sentence and $4,000 payment,” said Reed-Veal, referring to the possible sentence and fine if Encinia is convicted. “There’s so much more that he should have been indicted for. Check the video. It’s on Youtube, and it certainly shouldn’t have taken all of this time to come up with a perjury charge.”
When the grand jury last month declined to charge any sheriff’s officials or jailers in connection with the death that authorities ruled a suicide, the family said they placed their hopes on the investigation into the contentious arrest coming back with felony charges.
The dashcam video of the stop, which sparked national outrage amid other cases of unarmed black suspects who had been killed during arrest or in police custody, showed Encinia drawing his stun gun and telling Bland, “I will light you up!” Off-camera, she is heard screaming that he’s about to break her wrists and knocked her head into the ground.
“Sandy was slapped. If you look at the videotape, at 10 minutes and 2 seconds, you see and hear Sandy slapped while she’s sitting in her car. That constituted a battery,” said the family’s attorney, Cannon Lambert.
“There’s no question he should have been charged with assault when he pulled out that Taser and said, ‘I’m going to light you up.’ They knew about that from the time they first looked at the video. They knew about that because they saw him trying to rip her from her car,” Lambert said. “He should have been charged with battery. He should have been charged with false arrest, because that phantom kick that he claims took place is nowhere to be found.”
The grand jury found only that Encinia had lied in an affidavit in which he claimed Bland — in Texas to interview for a job at her alma mater — was “combative and uncooperative” after he pulled her over and ordered her out of the car.
On Thursday, Encinia surrendered to authorities. His lawyer says he will plead not guilty.
The family argued that the lack of more serious charges supports their continuing call for the U.S. Justice Department to intervene, as it has in cities such as Ferguson, Missouri, after the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown; Cleveland, after the fatal police shooting of Tamir Rice; and Chicago, after the McDonald case.
With the indictment only a first step, they have little confidence local prosecutors will secure even a conviction on the misdemeanor charges, the family said. And as with the McDonald case, the family pointed to the elephant in the room: the lack of charges against other officers who supported Encinia’s version of the arrest now contradicted by dashcam video.
“If you lie once, you’ll lie 50 times. We know he’s a liar, so it does help the civil claim. It will also help us because we’ll be in a place where we can get the Rangers report. It’s going to show us what the activities of the other officers were,” Lambert said.
“Why were other officers complicit in the report that he ultimately filed?” he asked. “We also are going to be in the position where we can look at deposing him. We want to talk to him. We want to ask him why is it that you did what you did? How is it that you let your ego get so out of control?”
The family maintained they will continue their quest for those answers, not only for themselves, but because they believe they represent other victims in the Black Lives Matter movement.
“It’s draining, but it’s worth the fight,” said the second-oldest daughter, Sharon Cooper. “It’s worth the struggle, the getting up and putting one foot in front of the other. We realize what happened to our daughter and our sister is so much bigger than us. It has always been our responsibility as a family to be an advocate on behalf of a family member who’s no longer here and who’s been silenced, but also for other people.”