AUSTIN, Texas — A state investigation of a white state trooper’s actions in the arrest of Sandra Bland, a black motorist who later died in custody, found that the trooper was rude toward Bland and failed to follow standard procedures in his handling of the woman.
KXAN-TV of Austin obtained a “use of force” report from the Texas Department of Public Safety. It showed Trooper Brian Encinia also provided no answers to several questions the DPS interviewer posed about his actions — including why Encinia didn’t tell Bland why she was being arrested.
KXAN obtained the report and supporting interview transcripts and recordings in response to a request made under the Freedom of Information Act.
Encinia, who arrested Bland after a minor traffic infraction escalated into an angry struggle in 2015, was charged with perjury after Bland was found dead in a Waller County Jail cell three days after her arrest. A judge later dismissed that charge on the condition that Encinia resign from the DPS, surrender his police license and agree to never reapply.
The death of the 28-year-old Chicago-area woman ignited national outrage and drew the attention of the Black Lives Matter movement.
In his interview with the DPS inspector general, Encinia said several times that he believed his safety was in jeopardy during the Bland encounter. He said Bland’s movements inside her car concerned him.
“I had a feeling that anything could’ve been either retrieved or hidden within her area of control. My primary concern was that purse, with her console, as far as being any kinds of weapons or drugs or, it’s unknown to me,” he said. “I don’t know what happened but something did, and to me that was the reasonable suspicion.”
But when asked why he didn’t order Bland to step out of her car or explain her movements, Encinia said he had no answer.
“I think things could’ve been handled differently, yes sir. I still did have a concern for the area of her control that I didn’t know what was there, but I do agree that things could’ve been done differently,” Encinia answered when asked if he could have de-escalated the situation by telling Bland she was only being given a warning for the traffic violation.
An attorney for Bland’s family, Cannon Lambert, told the station that the video showed Encinia never communicated to backup officers that he was concerned about of Bland’s actions before he became confrontational. Instead, Lambert said, Encinia falsely claimed to fear for his safety to justify his actions.
DPS officials and Encinia’s attorney declined to comment on the story, the station reported.