AUSTIN, Texas — Cellphone video recorded by Sandra Bland, a woman found dead in a Texas jail in 2015 following a confrontational traffic stop, shows for the first time her perspective as a state trooper draws his stun gun and points it at close range while ordering her out of the car.
The 39-second clip revealed by the Investigative Network, a nonprofit news organization in Texas, aired Monday night on Dallas television station WFAA.
Sandra Bland's family and their attorney say they’ve never seen this video before, but the Texas Department of Public Safety says this video has been available for some time now. In any case, the public is getting its first look. The question now is whether it's enough to reopen the case into her arrest.
Bland was found hanging in her jail cell outside Houston three days after her arrest. Her death and dashcam video showing Trooper Brian Encinia trying to pull the 28-year-old Naperville-native woman out of her vehicle became flashpoints in the debate over the treatment of black people by police.
The clip begins at the most dramatic moment of the July 2015 traffic stop near Prairie View A&M University: Encinia has opened Bland's car door and draws his stun gun as she tries to steady her phone's camera. The flashlights on the stun gun flick on and Encinia yells, "Get out of the car! I will light you up. Get out!"
Bland exits the car and continues to record Encinia as he orders her onto the sidewalk. The stun gun is still pointed at her and the flashlights remain on. He instructs her to get off the phone, to which Bland replies, "I'm not on the phone. I have a right to record. This is my property."
The video ends seconds later after Encinia tells her to put the phone down.
The emergence of the cellphone video raised questions about who had seen it until now. Cannon Lambert, an attorney for the Bland family who settled lawsuits against the state and county jail that totaled nearly $2 million combined, said he never saw the clip until it was recently shared by a reporter.
Lambert said he didn't see the video in evidence turned over by investigators, which he said he wanted to believe was just human error. Democratic state Rep. Garnet Coleman, who in 2017 carried the "Sandra Bland Act" that the family criticized for being weakened before signed into law, said Monday night he would look into why Bland's family never saw the footage.
"It is troubling that a crucial piece of evidence was withheld from Sandra Bland's family and legal team in their pursuit of justice," Coleman said in a statement.
Katherine Cesigner, a spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Public Safety, said the cellphone video was known to all parties at the time and said that two years following the litigation, it was "unclear what arrangements, if any, were made by the plaintiffs to view the video."
The department disputed the premise that the video was not provided, saying it was included as part of a large hard drive of evidence from the investigation. It also said Sandra Bland's cellphone video had previously been publicly released in 2017, when it was given to an Austin television station under open records law.
Encinia, who was fired after being indicted for perjury over the traffic stop, said he came to fear for his safety after stopping Bland for failing to signal a lane change.
"The video makes it abundantly clear there was nothing she was doing in that car that put him at risk at all," Lambert said.
The perjury charge was later dropped in exchange for Encinia agreeing to never work in law enforcement again.
Lambert says the video should have impacted the way the special prosecutor handled Encinia’s case.
"The special prosecutors who had the ability to prosecute Ensigna for perjury and they reason they gave us for not doing so was that the case was too difficult to prove , I think this video shows that not to be so," Lambert said.
Bland’s sister Sharon Cooper said the video is bittersweet validation, as a special prosecutor's decision to to drop the charges against Encinia has left them with little options when it comes to re-opening the case.
"It’s frustrating but it long confirms what we long felt for quite some time as a family, that there was information out there like this and that the prosecution decided not to act on it and decided to cut a deal and it’s unfortunate," Cooper said. "They took that possibility away from us, and so we’ve been put in to a position where we’ve been made to move forward."
That Bland was holding up a cellphone is clear in the original dashcam footage. Chip Lewis, Encinia's attorney, said the cellphone footage doesn't illuminate anything beyond what the dashcam video already showed.
He said "furtive gestures" made by Bland from inside her car presented a risk and was the impetus for Encinia trying to remove her.
"From a law enforcement standpoint, it had nothing to do with her being agitated as you may have seen on her recording," Lewis said.