The family of Sandra Bland filed suit Tuesday against a Texas state trooper who arrested her during a traffic stop days before she was found dead in a county jail.
Bland, a 28-year-old African American woman, was pulled over by Brian Encinia on July 10 and was arrested after the routine traffic stop became confrontational. Her death in the Waller County jail was called a suicide by hanging after an initial autopsy. But her family and their supporters insist that Bland’s death should be investigated and that she would not have killed herself in jail.
The suit, filed in federal court Tuesday, names Encinia, the Texas Department of Public Safety, the Waller County Sheriff’s Office and other jail employees as defendants.
The suit alleges that Encinia violated Bland’s constitutional rights and as a result, Bland suffered physical injury, pain and suffering, mental anguish, damages and death. And it accuses the jail of failing to adequately monitor Bland by conducting mandatory face-to-face checks every 60 minutes and failing to provide adequate medical care.
“What remains constant is that she should not have been there in the first place,” said Sharon Cooper, Bland’s sister, at a news conference Tuesday.
Police video released by Texas officials show that Encinia intended to give Bland a warning for failing to signal a lane change after he checked her license plate and driver’s license records. But Encinia ordered Bland out of her vehicle after she refused to put out her cigarette.
After a struggle outside the vehicle, Encinia arrested and charged her with assault on a public servant. She was booked in the Waller County jail, where she later died.
Bland’s sister added that the confrontation clearly escalated over the issue of Bland’s cigarette and that Encinia failed to de-escalate the situation.
“She was phenomenal, she was vibrant, she was outspoken,” Cooper added. “She was unapologetically confident — and that’s okay. It’s okay to be confident, and it’s okay to be assertive in her demeanor and her stature.”
“We have stood in awe of her in the manner in which she stood up for herself at a time when other people would have not said anything,” she added.
Encinia, according to the suit, “exhibited a pattern of escalating encounters with the public.” He has been placed on administrative duty by the Texas Department of Public Safety while the investigation is ongoing. Department officials have said that Encinia violated the department’s policies during the traffic stop.
An attorney for the family, Cannon Lambert Sr., said the family has still not received answers to questions about “inconsistencies that have been documented” about what happened inside the jail. He also called on Encinia to be fired and for the Justice Department to launch a separate investigation into Bland’s death.
“We are looking for Waller County and the individuals involved in this situation to take accountability,” Lambert said. “This family is frustrated — they’re frustrated because we don’t feel like that has happened.
“This family needs an answer to the principle question: What happened to Sandra Bland?”