Brian Encinia, the fired Texas state trooper involved in the viral arrest and detainment of Sandra Bland, pleaded not guilty Tuesday afternoon to a charge of misdemeanor perjury regarding statements he made in the aftermath of arresting the victim, who was later found dead in a Waller County jail.
Encinia entered his plea during a brief appearance in front of a County judge in Hempstead, TX, with about 20 civil rights activists present displaying signs reading “What happened to Sandra Bland,” “Justice for Sandy,” and “Stop Police Brutality NOW.”
Encinia, 30, pulled Bland over near Prairie View A&M University in July originally for failing to signal a lane change. The stop quickly escalated when Bland refused to put out a cigarette, as dashcam footage then shows Encinia reaching into Bland’s car and trying to pull her out, brandishing a stun gun and warning her “I’ll light you up.”
Bland was then found dead hanging in her jail cell three days later, being held for that length because of her inability to make bail at the time. The death, which was ruled a suicide despite many lingering questions, provoked a national outcry over the latest fatal victim in an ongoing debate about the way police interact with civilians, particularly people of color.
In the original arrest affidavit, Encinia said at the time he had ordered Bland out of the car to safely continue the investigation. Upon reviewing dashcam footage and other evidence, A Waller County grand jury indicted Encinia in January of misdemeanor perjury based on that statement, according a special prosecutor in the case.
He was fired from the Texas State Troopers on March 1, with Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) Steve McCraw spokesperson saying “he violated the department’s courtesy policy and procedures.” Encinia is appealing the termination to the DPS Commission, while separately the Trooper is also one of many defendants in a wide-ranging civil rights lawsuit filed by Bland’s family, alleging negligence and wrongful death.
Attorneys for Encinia were rejected in their request that the civil case be delayed while criminal proceedings played out.
If convicted of perjury, Encinia could spend up to a year in jail and have to a pay a $4,000 fine. Bland’s mother, Geneva Reed-Veal, and older sister Shante Needham both appeared at the arraignment, alongside their lawyer, Cannon Lambert.
“To come all this way, I needed to do it,” said Bland’s mother after the hearing, as she embraced those who’d gathered in support of her and her family.
“I’m hopeful things go in the direction that [Encinia] eventually gets detained and he can remain there for the maximum amount of time that perjury carries,” Needham said. “At the end of the day, my sister, my mother’s daughter, is no longer here anymore. He needs to be held accountable for his actions.”
Encinia’s attorneys have continued to insist that the Encinia did everything properly, and that this indictment represented a “fundamental misunderstanding” of police procedure, and blamed the charge on a “runaway grand jury and media frenzy.”
Encinia’s next court hearing is scheduled for May 17.