New Sandra Bland Video Shows ... Wait, After Four Years There's A New Sandra Bland Video?
Texas police stopped Sandra Bland for failing to signal a turn, and three days later, she was found hanging in a jail cell. Bland was apparently arrested on violation of an "uppity negress" ordinance. Trooper Brian Encinia claimed he repeatedly "feared for his life," but newly released video calls Encina's "scary black woman" defense into question.
Bland recorded the 39-second video with her cellphone. It wasn't publicly released until Monday as part of an investigative report airing on Dallas TV station WFAA. Authorities released Encina's dashcam footage but not Bland's recording of the 2015 encounter that led to her death. The video shows Bland with a cellphone in her hand. Cannon Lambert, a lawyer for the Bland family, says this weakens Encina's claim that Bland was an immediate bed-wetting threat.
LAMBERT: What the video shows is that Encinia had no reason to be in fear of his safety. The video shows that he wasn't in fear of his safety. You could see that it was a cellphone, he was looking right at it.
Police will probably argue that a cell phone is still a potential threat, because in a black person's hands, anything is a deadly weapon. We're like the Daredevil villain Bullseye. However, this does suggest that prosecutors didn't pursue charges against Encinia as zealously as they might have.
Encinia was indicted for perjury. He'd claimed that he'd removed Bland from her car -- with a taser pointed at her and threatening to "light her up" -- so he could "more safely" conduct his investigation. Grand jurors thought this was bogus. However, prosecutors dropped the charge in exchange for Encina accepting a permanent ban from law enforcement. They believed this was their best bet because how could they prove he'd perjured himself? That's kinda hard.
Law enforcement had this video until WFAA obtained it and showed the footage to Bland's family, who want the case re-opened. Lambert thinks it's "extremely troubling" that prosecutors didn't pursue the case again Encinia. Shawn McDonald, one of the prosecutors assigned to the
coverup case can't understand why the family hasn't just moved on after three-plus years; he thinks it's "frankly quite ridiculous." Besides, he's "proud" of the work they did on the case. His mother still has some of the affidavits pinned to her refrigerator.
McDonald admits he saw the cell phone video along with all the other evidence. Texas Department of Public Safety officials claim the video was part of a discovery and the Bland family should blame its lousy legal representation. We're not sure why the victim's family is responsible for prosecuting cases.
Encinia's perjury indictment was the only criminal charge that came out of a situation where a black woman who committed no actual crime mysteriously died in police custody. Many of our nice white moderate friends on Facebook wondered why Bland couldn't have just been more polite and accommodating to Encinia -- maybe even perform a little soft shoe. Nothing justifies what happened to Bland. Even if she'd survived, she didn't deserve for Encinia to treat her with such naked contempt and toss her around like a sack of clothes.
Encinia's lawyer, Chip Lewis, revealed his client is now "working in the private sector, supporting his wife and family and living a quiet life." In other words, the prosecution's "deal" was meaningless from any punitive sense. Newspaper reporters who are laid off don't bounce back so quickly. We're also not sure what "quiet life" even means in this context. He's not a retired rock star or former assassin. Good on him, though. We doubt he loses much sleep over Bland's death.
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Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He recently fled Seattle, where he did theatre work for Book-It Rep and Cafe Nordo.