DALLAS — The Texas trooper who arrested Sandra Bland after a confrontation that began with a traffic stop was once cautioned about “unprofessional conduct” in a 2014 incident while he was still a probationary trooper, according to his personnel file.
Bland, a 28-year-old Chicago-area woman, was found dead in her Waller County jail cell in Hempstead, about 200 miles south of Dallas, on July 13, three days after her arrest. Officials say she used a plastic bag to hang herself, a finding her family has questioned. Bland’s family and others also have criticized Trooper Brian Encinia, who stopped Bland for failing to signal a lane change.
The Associated Press obtained Encinia’s personnel file Friday from the Texas Department of Public Safety through a Freedom of Information Act request. Encinia had been with the department for a little over a year. For the most part, his file was unremarkable. He received “competent” ratings in all of the evaluations that were released.
However, in an evaluation that covered September and October 2014, his supervisor noted that Encinia “was given a written counseling for unprofessional conduct … for an incident occurring while at a school in Austin.” The documents provided no additional details and a Department of Public Safety official did not return a phone call seeking comment Friday night.
The evaluation goes on to say, “In the future, Trooper Encinia should conduct himself at all times in a manner that will reflect well upon himself, the Department, and the State of Texas. This supervisor will ensure that this is done by meeting periodically with Trooper Encinia.”
Under the category of “Stress Tolerance” in the same evaluation, his supervisor remarked that Encinia “performed effectively and rationally while involved in a pursuit resulting in a firearms discharge during the reporting period.” The document did not provide additional details about that incident.
The documents also did not include any information about Encinia’s interaction with Bland. That is still under investigation, though the director of the Department of Public Safety, Steve McCraw, has said Encinia violated internal policies of professionalism and courtesy.
Dashcam video shows the confrontation between Bland and Encinia 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, who was black, eventually was arrested for allegedly assaulting the white 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.
According to his personnel file, Encinia was selected for the Trooper Trainee Academy in December 2013, joined the Department of Public Safety in June 2014 as a probationary trooper and completed his probation in June 2015, becoming a Highway Patrol trooper.
Encinia’s most recent performance evaluation was for November and December 2014. Among the remarks were that Encinia “appears to operate effectively under stress,” “continues to use good problem solving skills and judgment while working patrol” and “appears to treat others in a respectful manner.”
Before applying for trooper training, Encinia was a volunteer firefighter in Brenham, where he was a supervisor at Blue Bell Creameries. Brenham Fire Chief Ricky Boeker remembered Encinia as a “stand-up kind of guy” popular with the people he worked with.
Encinia, a 2008 graduate of Texas A&M University, was elected as a district chief, Boeker said.
“He was a smart individual, very detail-oriented and he was just well liked by all of our members,” he said.
Margaret Hilaire, center, prays during a demonstration in Katy, Texas on July 26 calling for the firing and indictment of Texas State Trooper Brian Encinia. | Brett Coomer/Houston Chronicle, distributed by the Associated Press