On Wednesday at the request of prosecutors, a Texas judge dropped a misdemeanor perjury charge against Brian Encinia, the former Texas State Trooper who stopped Sandra Bland alongside a Prairie View road on July 10, 2015.
The charge stems from a January 2016 indictment, where a grand jury found Encinia’s statement surrounding Bland’s arrest to be false. Encinia claimed he instructed Bland to exit the vehicle to conduct a safe traffic stop, which the jury struck down.
After a virulent encounter with Encinia, Bland, 28, was arrested and later found hanged in her Waller County jail cell on July 13, just three days later. Her death was ruled a suicide by the medical examiner.
Once dash cam footage of the encounter between Encinia and Bland was made public, her arrest and subsequent death, prompted national protests and sparked much-needed debate regarding the treatment of inmates in the jail system. In December 2015, a grand jury failed to indict any other officers connected to Bland’s death.
In exchange of the dismissal, Encinia agreed to permanently leave law enforcement and surrendered over his police credentials, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press and the Houston Chronicle. Encinia also vowed he would never move to expunge the charge.
Bland’s sister, Shante Needham, wept openly after the ruling when she recalled a meeting her family had with prosecutors last year.
“In September, we were expecting to be in Texas sitting in the courtroom, but today they cut him a deal,” she said. “Why? Why? Why? Why did you cut him a deal when you sat in our faces and you seen our pain and you told us you were going to take it to court?”
Phoebe Smith, a private lawyer hired as a special prosecutor in the case, told the Chronicle that she felt terrible about the family’s loss, but pursued the motion to dismiss because she didn’t want to face the possibility of a jury acquitting Encinia.
“We dismissed it based on the fact that he permanently surrendered his license,” Smith said. “The bottom line is, we never wanted him to be a police officer again and we wanted to ensure that outcome. When you take a case in front of jury there’s always that risk.”
The family’s attorney, Cannon Lambert, told Texas news station KTRK that prosecutors never made the family aware of their decision to seek dismissal.
“It’s a shame that they didn’t take the time to contact the family ahead of their decision to do what they said they would not do,” he said. “They assured the family they would see this through. This is the reason why the community has a hard time trusting the system.”
In September 2016, Bland’s relatives reached a $1.9 million settlement in a wrongful-death lawsuit. The settlement ensures de-escalation training and changes to procedures for Waller County Jail staff.
Texas legislators later passed the ‘Sandra Bland Act,’ a bill aimed at protecting inmates with mental illness, and promotes access to effective health care for prisoners.