A Texas grand jury decided not to hand down indictments against anyone connected to the death of Sandra Bland, including her arresting officer, Texas state trooper Brian Encinia. This decision does not mean that Encinia will not face criminal charges. A prosecutor can still go to trial if he or she believes that the evidence is strong enough to warrant one, and there will still be a grand jury regarding the events surrounding the arrest. But the lack of an indictment is a strong indicator that Encinia won't get his day in court. He might be in the clear currently, but where is Brian Encinia now?
The Texas Department of Public Safety released a statement announcing that Encinia would be placed on indefinite desk duty for violations of department protocols on July 17, four days after Bland was found dead in her Waller County jail cell.
In the preliminary review of the traffic stop that occurred in Prairie View on July 10, 2015, involving Sandra Bland, we have identified violations of the department’s procedures regarding traffic stops and the department’s courtesy policy.
Pending the outcome of the Texas Ranger and FBI investigation into this incident, the employee involved has been assigned administrative duties. At the conclusion of this investigation, any violations of protocols will be addressed.
Encinia is still assigned to administrative duty for the policy violations. During Bland's arrest, Encinia threatened her with a taser, as Texas state Sen. Royce West confirmed. “Regardless of the situation, the DPS state trooper has an obligation to exhibit professionalism and be courteous,” said DPS Director Steve McCraw. "That did not happen in this situation."
Encinia wrote in a report that Bland had become combative and was swinging and kicking at him. He said that because of this, "Force was used to subdue Bland to the ground, to which Bland continued to fight back."
Aside from the violated regulations, there is considerable division in the Texas legal community about the legality of Encinia's actions. In the podcast Texas Standard, Jim Harrington, director of the Texas Civil Rights Project, says that Encinia had no legal authority to order Bland to put out her cigarette or to exit her car. However, Melissa Hamilton, visiting criminal law scholar at the University of Houston, states the opposite. "Whether you like it or not, the Supreme Court has made it clear police are in charge at a traffic stop, and they can make anybody get out of the car — driver or passenger — for no reason whatsoever," she said.
The deciding factor, which might also eventually determine the pending wrongful death lawsuit that Bland's family has brought against Encinia and the department, is whether there was actually a credible threat of danger.
Encinia's future seems up in the air, and as developments in the case proceed over the next few years, it's possible that he could still face criminal charges. For now, he remains employed by the Texas Department of Public Safety.