Three days before she died of an apparent suicide in a Texas jail cell in July 2015, Sandra Bland recorded her arrest by a Texas state trooper.
The 39 seconds of footage, until now unseen by the public or by Bland’s family, has her loved ones calling for a reopening of the criminal investigation into her death, which made Bland’s face a prominent one in the Black Lives Matter movement.
The recording was recently obtained by WFAA in Dallas, in partnership with the Texas nonprofit news organization Investigative Network, WFAA reported Monday. The video has fueled the suspicions of Bland’s family that Texas Department of Public Safety officials withheld evidence related to her arrest and subsequent death.
“Open the case up, period,” Bland’s sister, Shante Needham, told WFAA after watching the recording made by her sister for the first time.
See the short video recorded by Sandra Bland below, courtesy of Investigative Network. Warning: The footage contains graphic language.
The news station reported that Department of Public Safety officials denied the allegations that the recording was withheld from the family, or from the Texas Rangers and FBI agents who investigated the actions of Waller County jailers and then-Texas State Trooper Brian Encinia.
Encinia, who had been a trooper for about a year, was ultimately fired and indicted on a perjury charge in the case.
A week after the traffic stop, DPS officials said Encinia had violated the department’s procedures regarding traffic stops, as well as the agency’s “courtesy policy.” He was placed on administrative duties pending the conclusion of the criminal investigation.
The perjury charge against Encinia was later dropped after he gave up his license and agreed to never again seek work as a police officer, WFAA reported.
“The premise that the video was not produced as a part of the discovery process is wrong,” DPS officials said in a statement provided to the news station. “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 cellphone, was part of discovery.”
Special prosecutor Darrell Jordan confirmed to Investigative Network that he had received Bland’s recording of the traffic stop during the probe of her arrest and death. WFAA reported, however, that because grand jury proceedings are secret, it was unknown if the footage was shown to grand jurors.
Cannon Lambert, the attorney who represented Bland’s family in the wrongful death lawsuit they filed against authorities, said the cellphone footage was not produced during discovery in those proceedings.
“If they had turned it over, I would have seen it,” Lambert told a reporter with Investigative Network. “I’ve not seen that.”
The attorney said the video, along with Encinia’s own dashboard camera footage, shows that the former trooper knew Bland was not a threat. Encinia told investigators after Bland’s death that he had feared for his life during her arrest.
Watch the entire traffic stop of Sandra Bland below. Warning: The footage contains graphic language.
“My safety was in jeopardy at more than one time,” Encinia told investigators, according to WFAA.
“He sees exactly what’s in her hand,” Lambert told the news station. “How can you tell me you don’t know what’s in her hand when you’re looking right dead at it? What did she do to make him feel his safety was in jeopardy? Nothing.”
Encinia’s own attorney, Chip Lewis, told The Associated Press that the newly released video fails to show anything not already seen on the dashboard camera footage. Lewis cited “furtive gestures” as the reason his client decided to remove Bland from her vehicle.
Bland’s family ultimately settled their federal lawsuit for $1.9 million in September 2016. The Waller County Jail, where Bland died, was responsible for $1.8 million of that settlement; the DPS was liable for the remaining $100,000.
The jail was also required to make changes in procedure, including providing emergency nurses at all times and using sensors to ensure cells are accurately checked in a timely manner, as part of the settlement.
None of the jail staff on duty when Bland died were indicted in her death, the Houston Chronicle reported. A review by the Texas Commission on Jail Standards found, however, that jailers failed to adequately monitor their inmates.
According to the AP, Bland told a jailer upon her booking that she had previously attempted suicide.
Bland, 28, of Chicago, was driving her Hyundai Azera on University Drive near Prairie View A&M University, her alma mater, on July 10, 2015, when Encinia pulled her over for failing to signal a lane change. Family members said Bland, who had recently taken a new job at the university, was on the way to the store when she was stopped.
Encinia’s dashboard camera appears to show Bland turn her silver car onto University Drive as the trooper leaves the site of a previous traffic stop. Encinia then pulls a U-turn and starts driving behind Bland’s car.
Bland moves her car from the left lane into the right lane without using her signal, prompting Encinia to pull her over.
What began as a routine traffic stop escalated after Encinia noted that Bland appeared irritated and she admitted she was.
“You OK?” Encinia asks as he walks up to her window with her ticket.
“I’m waiting on you,” Bland responds. “This is your job.”
Bland tells Encinia she’s irritated because she changed lanes to allow Encinia to pass after he sped up and was tailing her, according to the dashboard camera footage released by the Department of Public Safety.
“I am a little irritated, but that doesn’t stop you from giving me a ticket, so,” Bland says.
“Are you done?” Encinia asks after a pause.
“You asked me what was wrong, and I told you. So now I’m done, yeah,” Bland responds.
Encinia then asks Bland to put out her cigarette.
“I’m in my car. Why do I have to put out my cigarette?” she asks.
That’s when Encinia begins ordering her out of the car.
“I don’t have to step out of my car,” she says.
Encinia’s orders to get out of the car escalate when he opens her car door, which Bland tells him he has no right to do. She tells him she refuses to speak to him other than to identify herself.
“Step out or I will remove you,” Encinia says. “I am giving you a lawful order.”
He starts trying to pull Bland from the vehicle and a struggle ensues, with Bland telling him to get his hands off her. She says he cannot remove her from the car because she is not under arrest.
“You are under arrest,” Encinia says.
“I’m under arrest? For what?” Bland demands. “For what?”
As he continues to order her out of the car, Bland apparently starts the recording on her cellphone.
The newly released video, which shows the confrontation from Bland’s viewpoint, begins with Encinia ordering her out of the vehicle.
“Get out of the car, now!” the trooper demands.
“Why am I being apprehended?” Bland asks. “You’re trying to give me a ticket for failure -- why am I being apprehended?”
She tells him he opened her car door and threatened to drag her out. At that point, Encinia pulls his Taser off his belt.
“Get out of the car!” he says, appearing to point the Taser in Bland’s face.
“And then you’ll stun me?” she asks.
“I will light you up,” Encinia says. “Get out. Now!”
“Wow,” Bland responds. “Wow.”
As she walks out of the car, Bland expresses disbelief that the trooper is reacting the way he is for such a minor traffic infraction.
“You’re doing all this for a failure to signal,” she says as he orders her away from the car.
“Get over there,” he says, pointing to where he wants her to stand.
“Right. Yeah. Yeah. Let’s take this to court. Let’s do it. For a failure to signal,” Bland says, getting louder. “Yep. For a failure to signal. On my school.”
Encinia tells her to get off the phone.
“I’m not on the phone,” Bland responds. “I have a right to record. This is my property.”
She continues to argue with the trooper, who tells her to stand in one spot.
“You feeling good about yourself?” Bland asks. “For a failure to signal. You feel real good about yourself, don’t you?”
Encinia shows Bland the ticket he was initially writing, which he said was just a warning. He tells her she created a problem, leading to her arrest.
“You asked me what was wrong. I’m trying to tell you,” Bland says.
There are several more minutes of arguing back and forth and Bland says multiple times that Encinia is about to break her wrist, which by that point is in handcuffs. He tells her to stop moving, but she states she is standing still and he is the one jerking her around.
A scuffle is heard as Encinia takes Bland to the ground off camera. She screams, “Stop!” as she begins to cry.
“Stop! Now!” Encinia screams back at her. “Stop resisting!”
Another female voice can be heard off camera as a Prairie View police officer arrives to assist Encinia.
“Stop resisting, ma’am,” the female officer tells her.
A crying Bland continues to berate Ensinia.
“A female, for a traffic ticket. I know that make you feel real good, Officer Ensinia,” she says. “You’re a real man now. You slammed me, knocked my head into the ground. I’ve got epilepsy, you (expletive).”
“Good,” Encinia says. “Good.”
“You should have thought about that before you started resisting,” the Prairie View officer says.
At one point, Encinia tells Bland he wants her to wait right there.
“I can’t go anywhere with your (expletive) knee in my back. Duh,” Bland responds.
In a video recorded by a bystander, Encinia is seen standing and walking toward the Prairie View officer’s patrol car as the officer continues to hold Bland prone on the ground. Encinia, who sees the bystander recording the arrest, tells him to leave.
“You need to leave,” he tells the man multiple times.
“Am I on public property?” the man asks.
Encinia then ignores the man.
Watch the bystander’s video of Sandra Bland’s arrest below. Warning: The footage contains graphic language.
As Bland is led to the Prairie View patrol car, hands cuffed behind her back, she can be heard thanking the bystander for recording her arrest.
Bland was booked into the Waller County Jail on a charge of assault on a public servant. Encinia claimed in a single-page arrest affidavit that Bland, who he described as “combative and uncooperative,” had kicked him in the shin.
Bland was found hanging by a plastic bag in her jail cell three days later, as her family scrambled to come up with the 10 percent, or $500, it would take to get her released.
Her death was ruled a suicide, but her family argued she never should have been arrested in the first place. They also described her as upbeat about the new job she was about to begin.
A grand jury indicted Encinia for perjury in January 2016. Jordan, the special prosecutor, told the Chronicle that grand jurors did not buy the trooper’s contention in the affidavit that he “had Bland exit the vehicle to further conduct a safe traffic investigation.”
“They just didn’t believe it,” Jordan said.
See the indictment against Encinia below.
The Department of Public Safety fired Encinia a few days after the indictment was handed down, citing his failure to “exercise patience and discretion throughout the contact” with Bland.
Bland’s death prompted protests throughout Texas and beyond and led to the Sandra Bland Act, a Texas law that requires better training for jailers and more mental health care access for inmates. Bland’s family expressed disappointment with the law, which was pared down from its original form, which included police accountability and anti-racial profiling measures, according to the AP.
The original bill sought to raise the burden of proof for stopping and searching vehicles, provide better training in racial profiling for officers and ban arrests for offenses punishable by a fine. Following opposition from law enforcement groups and the Texas Republican Party, the bill was cut, leaving mostly mental health reforms intact.
“What the bill does in its current state renders Sandy invisible,” Bland’s sister, Sharon Cooper, told the AP in May 2017. “It painfully misses the mark for us.”
The Chronicle reported in January that the Waller County Jail still failed to meet the requirements put in place by the law enacted in Bland’s name. A December inspection report showed that jailers were not conducting face-to-face observations of all inmates at least once per hour.
The inspection found the jail staff was off on that time schedule by nearly two and a half hours.
See the December Waller County Jail inspection report below.
Inmates who, like Bland, are known to be potentially suicidal or who have a history of mental illness, are required to be observed every 30 minutes.
Jail staff missed that mark by 74 minutes, according to the December report.
Murder suspect Evan Lyndell Parker, 34, died Jan. 27, two days after hanging himself in the jail, the Chronicle reported. His was the first suicide in the facility since Bland’s in 2015.