Officials never told the public that Sandra Bland filmed her traffic stop arrest and never handed the footage over as evidence
Over three years after Sandra Bland’s arrest and subsequent death, her family, prosecutors, and the public are finally getting to see what the confrontation between her and the police officer looked like from her perspective. Not only are her family members now sure that she wasn’t acting threatening during the stop, they are also more certain than ever that officials were withholding evidence – and they want the case re-opened.
The 39-second video, which was released by local Dallas news channel WFAA and the Investigative Network, shows that Bland recorded her traffic stop, in which the officer claimed that he pulled Bland over for failing to signal when she switched lanes. During the video, you can see that Trooper Brian Encinia, who is white, escalates the traffic stop seemingly out of nowhere, and that Bland does not seem to be a threat.
“Get out of the car!” the officer shouts at one point, while shoving a taser toward Bland. “I will light you up. Get out. Now.”
“Why am I being apprehended? You doing all of this for a failure to signal?” Bland asks before stepping out of the car.
The officer than demands that she “get off the phone.”
“I have a right to record, and this is my property,” she says in response.
Sandra Bland’s arrest and death have been held up by the Black Lives Matters movement as a tragic example of how rampant racism is in the justice system and particularly, how dangerous and deadly it can be – from who police officers decide to pull over, to how black people are treated during traffic stops, to how they are treated in the jail and prison system, to how their cases are investigated after the fact.
Bland, who was 28 years old, was pulled over in July 2015 in Waller County while on her way to the grocery store. She was arrested after her encounter with Trooper Encinia escalated and brought to a county jail, where she was found lifeless and hanging three days later. Her death was ruled a suicide.
Encinia claimed that he thought his safety was in danger during the traffic stop. But after an investigation, he was fired from the Texas Department of Public Safety and indicted by a grand jury for perjury. The charge was later dropped when he agreed never to work in law enforcement again.
While the public had seen a dash cam video showing the exchange, Bland’s own video was only uncovered by independent investigators and local journalists after being in the dark for years.
Bland’s family and legal representation believe that the new evidence makes it clear the case needs to be reopened.
“What the video shows is that Encinia had no reason to be in fear of his safety,” the family’s lawyer, Cannon Lambert, told the New York Times. “The video shows that he wasn’t in fear of his safety. You could see that it was a cellphone, he was looking right at it.”
“Open up the case, period,” said Bland’s sister Shante Needham, when she saw the video. ““We also know they have an extremely, extremely good cover-up system.”
Texas Department of Public Safety officials claim that the video footage was part of discovery during Encinia’s trial, though they declined an interview in favor of a statement.
“The premise that the video was not produced as a part of the discovery process is wrong,” DPS said in a statement. “A hard drive containing copies of 820 Gigabytes of data compiled by DPS from its investigation, including the dashcam videos, jail video footage and data from Sandra Bland’s cell phone, was part of discovery.”
But Lambert claims that if it had been turned over, he would have seen it and used it in the federal trial.
“[The video] not only shows that [Encinia] lied, but that he really had no business even stopping her, period,” Needham. “And at the end of the day, he needs to go to jail.”
The family settled a wrongful death lawsuit with Waller County and Texas DPS in 2016 for $1.9 million. Also, in the wake of the deadly incident, Texas passed the Sandra Bland Act in 2016. The new law now requires all police officers to undergo deescalation training, requires the independent investigation of jail deaths, and gives greater protection for people in custody with mental health or addiction issues. Still, her family, and many millions of people around the world who have followed the case, don’t believe that justice has been done.