Although an initial autopsy officially ruled that 28-year-old Sandra Bland committed suicide, it's still unclear what will happen to Brian Encinia, the trooper who arrested her. And even after the first autopsy, Bland's family still believe there are suspicious circumstances surrounding her death. Bland was found dead in her Texas cell three days after being arrested for allegedly assaulting an officer on July 10, and many take issue with the fact that she was arrested at all.
The dash cam video released by the Texas Department of Public Safety shows an overly aggressive Encinia threaten Bland with a Taser for refusing to put out her cigarette. Encinia is also seen demanding she exit her car while refusing to answer her questions. Though video footage doesn't capture the actual arrest (that took place out of the camera's frame), audio from the tape confirms Encinia's tone remained aggressive throughout the rest of the situation.
Last week, an investigation by DPS found Encinia violated basic procedures of a traffic stop and courtesy policies, and he was placed on administrative leave. Though the agency did not cite specific violations, they are likely tied to Encinia's aggressive demeanor and demands that Bland stop filming (which she was legally allowed to do) as well as the fact he did not properly explain the consequences to Bland if she did not step out of her car.
Encinia is relatively new to law enforcement and has only been a state trooper for a little more than a year. Although his record is rather clean, DPS director Steve McCraw said he felt the video proved Encinia did not uphold his obligations as an officer of the law. "Regardless of the situation, the DPS state trooper has an obligation to exhibit professionalism and be courteous," McCraw told The Washington Post. "That did not happen in this situation."
According to Waller County district attorney Elton Mathis, an investigation has been opened to determine if Encinia violated the law and whether Bland's death was a suicide or murder. Mathis told The Wall Street Journal this probe would be treated as a murder investigation, and after a thorough evaluation of the facts, it will be presented to a Waller County grand jury. The grand jury will then decide whether or not there is enough evidence to charge Encinia with anything, let alone murder. "If it's a suspicious death, even if we believe it's a suicide, we'll take that to a grand jury so that there can be an open and honest discussion about that person's life," Mathis told The Wall Street Journal.
According McCraw, Encinia has been "taken off street duty," insinuating that he has been confined to a desk job until the investigation goes further. However, for Bland's family and supporters, desk duty is not enough. On Sunday, protesters gathered outside of Encinia's house, calling for his resignation or that he be relieved of duty.
Protesters also want to see Encinia be charged. "We demand that he be brought to justice," protester Anthony Collier told KHOU News. "If Sandra Bland could be arrested for committing no crime at all, surely this racist state trooper could be arrested."
There is no word on what Encinia would be charged with if the grand jury or DPS finds him liable of wrong doing. Mathis has not released a statement on when he will present facts to a grand jury, but the fact that there's an investigation at all should be some comfort to Bland's mourners.
Image: Texas Department of Public Safety/YouTube