What Will The Next Sandra Bland Grand Jury Bring? Officer Brian Encinia Could Still Face Charges
On Monday, the legal fate of the officers at the Waller County, Texas, jail where 28-year-old black woman Sandra Bland was found dead in July was decided: a grand jury didn't indict anyone over Bland's death, spurring outrage and heartache from her family, as well as among the activists who rallied in the days and weeks following her death. But the case isn't entirely over, with another grand jury date looming — what will happen to Officer Brian Encinia?
Monday's decision means that none of the officers who were tasked with looking after Bland while she was imprisoned will face any criminal charges over her death, which was ruled a suicide by hanging. But Encinia, the state trooper who arrested Bland in the first place, is not yet out of the woods. While the grand jury opted not to indict any of the jail's employees, they reportedly reached no decision regarding charges for Encinia, meaning his case will be headed back to a grand jury — it'll be in January, according to the Chicago Tribune.
That's not the only legal issue still ahead of Encinia, either. In addition to the grand jury reconvening to consider "additional issues" relating to Bland, he also faces a federal lawsuit brought by Bland's mother, Geneva Reed-Veal.
So, what's likely to happen to Encinia? The first, most important thing to bear in mind is that only the grand jury in January could result in any criminal charges against him, and grand juries tend to be pretty favorable towards law enforcement. That's a huge part of why the federal lawsuit Bland's family filed requested that the case be handed over to the Department of Justice — there's ample data that shows that the grand jury setting benefits members of law enforcement, both in process and outcomes.
There is video footage of Encinia escalating his traffic stop with Bland, including threatening to "light her up" with a taser for her initial resistance to exit her car. Moments after being led off-camera, she complains that Encinia allegedly slammed her head into the ground. Another video of the arrest, shot by a bystander with a cell phone camera, revealed that Bland was indeed on the ground when Encinia made the arrest. Encinia claimed that Bland was swinging her elbows and kicking at him, which is why he used force in the arrest.
But as FiveThirtyEight's Reuben Fischer-Baum detailed last year, following the grand jury non-indictment of Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson, only 3,238 officers actually underwent legal proceedings for more than 8,300 misconduct complaints. And when you consider that those complaints were actually against more than 11,000 officers combined, that figure looks even worse.
In short, while Encinia will definitely face further scrutiny and legal wrangling, you could easily see him walk altogether come January. And at this point, after the litany of controversial non-indictments of police over the past couple of years, it would be hard to call it a surprise.