Charges dropped against arresting officer in Sandra Bland case

WALLER COUNTY, Texas - A judge in Waller County has dropped the perjury charge against Brian Encinia, the former DPS trooper who pulled over and arrested Sandra Bland for allegedly failing to use her turn signal in July 2015.

Three days after Bland, 28, was booked into jail, her body was found hanging in her cell. Authorities ruled Bland's death a suicide, but her family cast doubt, saying she would have never killed herself.

A grand jury indicted Encinia on perjury, finding that he lied about how he removed Bland from her car before arresting her.

With the charges now dropped, Encinia has agreed to surrender his Texas Commission on Law Enforcement Office and not pursue another job as an officer.

Sandra Bland's family has reached a $1.9 million settlement in a wrongful death lawsuit -- an agreement that has brought "joy" after a year of grief, Bland's mother said.

The settlement includes compensation for Bland's death in custody as well as several changes to jail procedures in Waller County, Texas.
Bland family attorney Cannon Lambert said the jail procedure changes include:
-- Using automated electronic sensors to ensure timely cell checks
-- Providing an on-duty staff nurse or emergency medical technician for all shifts
-- Providing continuing education for jailer screening

A controversial arrest

Dashcam video shows the encounter Bland had with Texas State Trooper Brian Encinia started as a normal conversation but grew tense after Encinia asked her to put out her cigarette.

I am in my car. Why do I have to put out my cigarette?" Bland said.

"You can step on out now," Encinia replied.

Bland refused to get out of her car. The trooper opened her door and tried to pull her out of the vehicle.

In the video, Encinia told Bland she was under arrest. She repeatedly asked why. The trooper did not answer, other than to say, "I am giving you a lawful order."

At one point, after Encinia aimed what appeared to be a Taser at Bland, she stepped out of her car. Later, she can be heard saying: "You're a real man now. You just slammed me, knocked my head in the ground."

In the arrest warrant, Encinia said Bland was out of control, calling her "combative and uncooperative."

"Bland began swinging her elbows at me and then kicked my right leg in the shin," Encinia said in the statement. "Force was used to subdue Bland to the ground, to which Bland continued to fight back.

Questions surrounding death
The two-page "special inspection report" from the Texas Commission on Jail Standards does not mention Bland by name, but it was filed on July 16, 2015, three days after Bland's body was found in her cell.

A timeline from the Waller County Sheriff's Office said a guard stopped and briefly talked with Bland shortly after 7 a.m., but no one came back to check on her until 8:55 a.m.

The state report noted that there should be a "visual, face-to-face observation of all inmates by jailers no less than once every 60 minutes."

After the wrongful death settlement, "The Waller County judge will be seeking passage of state legislation for more funding for local jails regarding intake and booking, screening and other jail support," family attorney Lambert said.

According to Simmons, the proposed settlement agreement does not involve admissions of wrongdoing.

"The Waller County defendants also emphasize they vigorously deny any fault," he noted in a statement.

Police shootings: Trials, convictions are rare for officers

Few police officers ever face trial for shooting deaths, let alone are convicted.

One researcher reported that there are about 1,000 police shootings each year in the United States.

Between 2005 and April 2017, 80 officers have been arrested on murder or manslaughter charges for on-duty shootings.

During that 12-year span, 35% were convicted, while the rest were pending or not convicted, according to work by Philip Stinson, an associate professor of criminal justice at Bowling Green State University in Ohio.