HOUSTON, Jan. 6 (UPI) — A Texas state trooper who made a traffic stop on Sandra Bland three days before she was found dead in her jail cell has been indicted by a grand jury, a special prosecutor said Wednesday.
The indictment says trooper Brian T. Encinia lied about his actions during a traffic stop on Bland, 28, as she passed through a Houston suburb on her way to take a new job at Prairie View A&M University. Encinia stopped Bland for failing to use her turn signal.
During the ordeal, which was recorded by the trooper’s dashboard camera, Encinia threatened to subdue her with a stun gun and told her, “I will light you up, get out!”
In July, while being questioned for a legislative inquiry, Texas Department of Public Safety director Steven McCraw criticized Encinia for his actions during the stop, saying the trooper violated DPS policy, behaved rudely and failed to de-escalate the situation — which involved Bland refusing to extinguish her cigarette or get out of her car.
The charge, a Class A misdemeanor, carries a maximum penalty of a year in jail and a $4,000 fine.
To date, Encinia is the only person involved in the case to be indicted by a grand jury. Last month, the panel’s investigation of the Waller County Sheriff’s Office and guards at the county jail did not result in any charges.
It is believed that Encinia’s indictment is the last major act by the grand jury, which began its investigation in August, prosecutors said.
Three days after her arrest, Bland was found hanging dead in her cell in the Waller County Jail. The case prompted a national outcry and doubts raised by her family that she took her own life. Her relatives also filed a wrongful death suit against Encinia and “others responsible” for Bland’s death.
Cannon Lambert, an attorney representing the Bland family, has called the county’s investigation a “sham.”
Prosecutors, though, said the probe is ongoing and that justice is their ultimate goal.
“We’re just going to finish what we started,” special prosecutor Darrell Jordan said. “Our goal in this process is justice. Whatever that might be.”
About two dozen protesters gathered at the Texas courthouse Wednesday to demand the termination of Encinia.
“Officer Encinia should not get off. He escalated the situation,” Houston resident and National Black United Front national vice-co-chair Jinaki Muhammad said.
Texas Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, said during a legislative inquiry in July that Encinia was the “catalyst” that led to Bland’s death.
“What he did triggered the whole thing,” he said.
Encinia, who joined the state police in 2014, was placed on administrative leave following Bland’s death.