Texas Grand Jury Resumes Investigation Into Arrest, Death Of Sandra Bland
By Molly Hennessy-Fiske, Los Angeles Times (TNS)
HOUSTON — The Texas grand jury looking into the death of Sandra Bland resumed its examination Wednesday, renewing the possibility that the state trooper who arrested the 28-year-old woman could be charged.
The grand jury has already concluded that no felony was committed by the sheriff’s office or jailers in connection with Bland’s death.
Bland was found hanged by a plastic bag in her jail cell three days after she was arrested outside Houston on July 10 during a routine traffic stop.
Special prosecutor Shawn McDonald said the Waller County grand jury met for the fourth time Wednesday morning after reaching no decision last month on whether Brian T. Encinia, the trooper who arrested Bland, should face charges.
McDonald said he couldn’t say whether the grand jury was considering charges against Encinia, but said the panel will likely finish its work by day’s end.
He is one of five Houston-area lawyers appointed as independent special prosecutors to present the case to the grand jury. If there are any indictments, those lawyers will take the case to trial.
Bland’s family and activists have questioned how the traffic stop was conducted and whether Bland, an outspoken online advocate for the Black Lives Matter movement, killed herself. At the time Bland was stopped, she had just accepted a job at her alma mater, Prairie View A&M University.
Encinia pulled over Bland for making an improper lane change near the university’s entrance, about 50 miles northwest of Houston. The confrontation that ensued before Bland was arrested and charged with assault was captured on video by a dashboard camera.
Bland was taken to the Waller County jail in nearby Hempstead where, three days later, unable to make $500 bail, she was discovered hanged in her cell. After an autopsy by the Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences in Houston, officials ruled her death a suicide.
Cannon Lambert, an attorney for the Bland family, said they have little hope the grand jury will indict Encinia.
“We would frankly be surprised,” Lambert told the Los Angeles Times on Wednesday.
But Lambert said there’s still a chance the grand jury could charge the trooper.
“We called it a sham before — I’d love to be wrong,” he said, “We always have believed that he acted criminally.”
Lambert said he was hopeful that if the grand jury finishes Wednesday, investigators would finally release records, including a Texas Ranger’s report, that have so far been withheld due to the ongoing investigation.
Bland’s relatives have demanded the records as part of a wrongful death lawsuit they filed in August against the Waller County Sheriff’s Office, jail officials and the Texas Department of Public Safety.
Last month, attorneys representing Waller County filed a motion seeking to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing that Bland took her life because she was distraught that her family members didn’t bail her out of jail.
Following last month’s grand jury meetings, protesters gathered outside the Waller County courthouse and marched in a Houston park to condemn the process and call for the Justice Department to launch an independent investigation.
State lawmakers monitoring the case have asked for calm as the grand jury meets.
©2016 Los Angeles Times. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
Photo: Demonstrators hold signs of Sandra Bland and Kindra Chapman, both of whom died in custody, during a rally against police violence in New York July 22, 2015. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton