I don’t blame Sandra Bland’s family for being outraged over a grand jury’s decision to only indict Texas State Trooper Brian Encinia for misdemeanor perjury.
For Encinia to face a charge that carries a maximum of one year in jail and a $4,000 fine must have felt like a slap in the face.
“Where is the true indictment? Where is the indictment for the assault, the battery, the false arrest? Where is that?” asked Bland’s mother, Geneva Reed-Veal, at a press conference last Thursday.
The trooper’s decision to arrest the 28-year-old Naperville woman on July 10, for allegedly failing to use her turn signal, set off a chain of events that ended with Bland being found hanging by a plastic garbage bag in a jail cell three days later.
Although officials in Texas ruled Bland’s death a suicide, that’s not something her family can accept.
Like a lot of African Americans, Bland’s family does not trust the word of law enforcement—and for good reason.
A lot of bad cops have been able to get away with abusive behavior because of a presumption–especially within the criminal justice system–that police officers tell the truth.
But dashcam videos of police encounters and sustained protests over allegations that unjustifiable force is being used by white police officers against African Americans, are testing our presumptions.
In this instance, a video shows the trooper drawing a stun gun and yelling, “I will light you up.” Off camera, Bland can be heard screaming he was “about to break her wrists and that he had knocked her head into the ground.”
In an affidavit, Encinia stated that Bland was “combative and uncooperative” after he pulled her over. He also said he “removed her from her car to further conduct a safer traffic investigation.”
Grand jurors found Encinia’s statement to be false, and the Texas Department of Public Safety quickly moved to purge him from its ranks.
Obviously, a perjury conviction would be of little consolation to a close-knit family that is still grappling with Bland’s death being ruled a suicide.
A grand jury had already declined to charge any law enforcement officials in her death.
But the fact that Encinia was charged with lying is an important development.
Dishonesty at any step of the criminal justice process corrupts the entire system.
And lying is not just a problem with police officers.
Last week, a senior lawyer in the city’s Law Department, Jordan Marsh, abruptly resigned after a federal judge ruled the lawyer concealed evidence in a 2011 police-involved shooting case. Because of the trickery, the family of the Darius Pinex was granted a new trial in its lawsuit against the city.
Frankly, I’ve always heard stories about cops lying. But officers are rarely, if ever, prosecuted for making false statements.
According to a report by Sun-Times reporter Frank Main, only three officers were fired last year for lying.
And two Chicago Police officers are currently under investigation for allegedly lying about how they got a gun off the street.
If the Chicago Police Department is looking to improve community relations, it should start here.
Police officers caught filing false reports, particularly in cases that resulted in injury or death shouldn’t only be disciplined; they should be prosecuted.
While the indictment of Encinia for perjury gives the Bland family little comfort, it does prop open a door to real reform.