A lawmaker is promising to hold a hearing at the Texas Capitol to probe state officials on the release of footage that Sandra Bland took.
By Eva Ruth Moravec, Investigative Network
May 7, 2019
AUSTIN, TX — A lawmaker is promising to hold a hearing at the Texas Capitol to probe state officials on the release of footage that Sandra Bland took on her cellphone of her controversial 2015 traffic stop.
The 39-second video, which Investigative Network Reporter Brian Collister obtained under an open records request first as an employee of KXAN in 2017, shows some of Bland’s encounter with former Texas Department of Public Safety Trooper Brian Encinia, who pulled Bland over for a traffic violation in July of 2015.
The clip opens after Encinia has opened Bland’s car door and is ordering her out of the vehicle with his stun gun drawn. “Get out of the car! I will light you up. Get out!” Encina shouts.
Bland, 28, continued to record and got out of the car. When Encinia orders her to get off the phone, she responds, “I’m not on the phone. I have a right to record. This is my property.”
A struggle ensued, and Bland was promptly arrested on a charge of assaulting a peace officer. Encinia took her to the Waller County Jail, where Bland was found hanging in her cell three days later.
Her death sparked national outrage over the treatment of black people by law enforcement officers, and led to legislation by Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, that bore Sandra Bland’s name in 2017. Activists adopted a hashtag that Bland used in videos she made of herself talking about social justice issues – #SandySpeaks – to keep her voice alive. But no one knew she’d recorded the stop herself.
Now, Coleman wants to know why the video Bland took of the arrest wasn’t made public back then.
“He was mad because she was using her phone to film him,” Coleman said in an interview inside his Capitol office Tuesday. “It would have made a difference in the bill had [the clip] come out then.”
After Bland’s death, Encinia said that he came to fear for his safety at the traffic stop. A grand jury indicted Encinia for perjury, and he was fired from Texas DPS shortly afterwards. In June of 2017, the perjury charge was dropped after Encinia agreed to never seek work in law enforcement ever again, and to never seek an expungement. Meanwhile, Bland’s family worked with attorney Cannon Lambert to sue the state and county jail in federal court for the wrongful death.
Collister requested the criminal case file after the charge was dropped, but didn’t report on it at the time. He left KXAN and started the Investigative Network, planning to use the footage in a documentary. When he brought it up to Bland’s family and Lambert, though, Collister realized they’d never seen it before.
“If they had turned it over, I would have seen it, Brian. I’ve not seen that,” Lambert said when shown the video in his Chicago law office. He insists that the video was not produced during discovery.
Texas DPS has pushed back against that statement.
“The premise that the video was not produced as a part of the discovery process is wrong,” DPS said in a statement. “A hard drive containing copies of 820 Gigabytes of data compiled by DPS from its investigation, including the dashcam videos, jail video footage and data from Sandra Bland’s cell phone, was part of discovery.”
On Tuesday, Coleman, who chairs the House Committee on County Affairs, said he plans to hold a hearing in the last few weeks of the legislative session to ask the Texas Office of the Attorney General and the Texas DPS about how and when the footage was released to Bland’s family and attorneys. So far, a spokeswoman from the AG’s office has not responded to a request for a comment on what they knew about the footage when Encinia’s criminal case was settled.
“They have to show up, we’ll subpoena them,” Coleman said when asked what he would do if the AG’s office continues to stay mum.
Meanwhile, activists who called for change and a deeper investigation in 2015 are again asking for legislative action. Fatima Mann, who organized marches and rallies in Sandra Bland’s name after her death, spoke to the media outside of the Capitol Tuesday morning. She planned to hold a rally at 6 p.m. Tuesday evening in Sandra Bland’s memory.
“Sandy’s phone changed the world not just one time, but several times,” Mann said, “and in this case, she used it to tell her own story.”
She said she is hopeful that the legislature will adopt reforms this session that will “make sure that there’s no more Sandra Blands,” such as a bill by Rep. James White, R-Hillster, that prevents arrests for non jailable offenses. HB 2754 is slated for a vote on the Texas House floor this week.
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