Since her death on July 13, Sandra Bland's name has appeared on newspapers and protest signs across the country, with activists describing her as a victim of institutional racism. Tied to her name is that of the state trooper who arrested her: Brian Encinia. As the case gains more traction, Encinia faces scrutiny from civilians and potential punishment from superiors, leading to the question of what has happened to him since Bland's death. For now, he's not patrolling the streets, and he is facing a serious investigation.
On July 10, Encinia pulled the 28-year-old Bland over in Prairie View, Texas, for neglecting to use her turn signal. He arrested her, later saying she was being "uncooperative." Three days later, officers found Bland dead in her cell from what appeared to be suicide, sparking national outrage and a booming social media campaign.
A criminal investigation and a second autopsy on Bland's body are unfolding, but Encinia has not been forgotten. He violated the Texas Department of Public Safety’s traffic stop and courtesy procedures during the incident when he tried to yank Bland out of her car and threatened her with a Taser. He has been put on administrative leave for now. However, he could face harsher retributions as a result of the way he behaved towards the African-American woman.
Waller County District Attorney Elton Mathis announced to reporters on June 20 that Bland's death is being investigated like a homicide, but the coroner ruled her death a suicide and announced that her body revealed no evidence of a struggle. According to USA Today, Warren Diepraam, a Waller County prosecutor, said, "At this particular time, I have not seen any evidence that this is a homicide." However, Bland's family has pushed for a second autopsy because they claim she gave no signal of being suicidal.
Mathis told The Wall Street Journal that he is investigating Encinia for any violations of criminal laws. The FBI and Texas Rangers, the law enforcement agency with statewide jurisdiction over certain criminal investigations, have been assisting in this probe. Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steven McCraw said the state trooper has been "removed from street duty.” Encinia has not spoken out about the incident or what his possible punishment might be.
“I didn’t like what I saw when I saw the video of the trooper’s actions, but I’ll reserve judgment,” Mathis said.
The dashboard camera that caught the incident on film showed Encinia threatening Bland with a taser and yelling at her, "I will light you up." The footage was damning for Encinia, who had only been a state trooper for a little more than a year. Livid protesters have been waiting outside his home. Online petitions have circulated for the Department of Justice to take over the investigation and for Texas state troopers to fire Encinia. Although it's still unclear whether he will be reinstated to his former position, he will likely continue to face the same sort of community outrage as experienced by officers such as Darren Wilson and Daniel Pantaleo.
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