'Open up the case, period': Sandra Bland’s family demands answers over new video of her arrest
The clip starts with the furious voice of a Texas state trooper. “Get out of the car! Now!” he shouts.
When the woman filming asks why he would “threaten to drag me out of my own car,” the trooper pulls out his Taser. “Get out of the car!” he screams, pointing it at her torso. “I will light you up!”
Three days later, the woman wielding the cellphone - a 28-year-old recent transplant named Sandra Bland who had been pulled over for failing to signal a lane change - would die in jail, her death ruled a suicide. The trooper, Brian Encinia, would later be fired and charged with perjury, though the charge wouldn’t stick. And his dashboard-camera footage of her arrest would play for weeks on national news shows.
But until a Dallas news station obtained and aired the cellphone clip on Monday night, no one had seen Bland’s own view of that tense moment in July 2015 - including her family and the attorney who represented them in civil court.
Now, Bland’s family is alleging that the Texas Department of Public Safety purposely withheld the video, raising fresh questions about official misconduct in a case that became a linchpin of the Black Lives Matter movement, sparking nationwide protests and demands for police accountability.
“Open up the case, period,” Bland’s sister Shante Needham told WFAA, which unearthed the video in partnership with the nonprofit Investigative Network.
Officials with the Texas Department of Public Safety denied those claims and say the cellphone video was included in a large batch of evidence given to the Bland family’s attorneys. “The premise that the video was not produced as a part of the discovery process is wrong,” the department told the ABC affiliate in a statement. “A hard drive containing copies of 820 Gigabytes of data compiled by DPS from its investigation, including the dash cam videos, jail video footage and data from Sandra Bland’s cellphone, was part of discovery.”
But Cannon Lambert, the Bland family’s attorney, said that’s simply not true.
“I’ve not seen it,” Lambert told a WFAA reporter of the cellphone recording. “If they had turned it over, I would have seen it.”
Bland was pulled over by Encinia on July 10, 2015, in Waller County, Texas, about 50 miles northwest of Houston. The native of Naperville, Illinois, had recently moved there to take a job at her alma mater, Prairie View A&M University, where she’d worked as a camp counselor, studied agriculture and joined a sorority.
Bland’s roadside exchange with the trooper quickly turned heated after Encinia demanded that she put out a cigarette and she refused. Encinia’s dash-cam footage, which was released later that month, showed the trooper escalating the situation until Bland left her car under threat of the Taser and was eventually arrested.
Three days later, she was found dead in the Waller County Jail. Officials ruled the cause suicide by hanging, but Bland’s family cried foul and civil rights activists quickly took up the cause. Bland’s name became the latest byword for police misconduct.
In his probable cause statement, Encinia said he’d instructed Bland to leave her car to conduct a safe traffic investigation, and he told investigators that “my safety was in jeopardy at more than one time.”
But a grand jury later found that the trooper had lied, ruling instead that he “removed Sandra Bland from her vehicle because he was angry she would not put out her cigarette.” The jury recommended perjury charges, which were filed in January 2016; Encinia was fired later that year.