According to newly released police video, a Texas trooper threatened Sandra Bland with a Taser when he ordered her out of her vehicle during a traffic stop on July 10, three days before she was found dead in a county jail.
Bland — a 28-year old African American woman — was stopped for failing to signal while changing lanes, but the routine traffic stop turned confrontational after the officer, Brian Encinia, ordered Bland to put out her cigarette.
“Would you mind putting out your cigarette, please?” Encinia said.
“I’m in my car, why do I have to put out my cigarette?” Bland answered.
“Well, you can step on out now,” Encinia said.
Bland refused, saying she did not have to step out of the car.
Encinia opened the driver’s door and attempted to physically remove Bland from the vehicle.
“I’m going to yank you out of here,” Encinia said as the two struggled in the car. “I’m going to drag you out of here.”
“Don’t touch me, I’m not under arrest,” Bland said.
“I will light you up!” Encinia said, while pointing the Taser at Bland.
At a press conference on Tuesday, state Senator Royce West said that after viewing the video, he could confirm that Bland was threatened with a Taser by the officer.
Details of the confrontation were not included in the arrest warrant written by Encinia, which officials also released Tuesday, 11 days after the arrest — and eight days after Bland’s death in the Waller County Jail. Her death was classified as suicide by hanging, but news of the suicide — which came amid growing outrage over police interactions with African Americans — has been met with skepticism by those who knew Bland, and even others who didn’t.
The arrest warrant detailed Encinia’s version of events. The warrant does not mention the Taser, nor does it elaborate on why Encinia ordered Bland out of the vehicle.
During the incident, Bland repeatedly asks why she is being arrested. The remainder of the confrontation occurs outside of the view of the camera, but the audio captured what appeared to be a struggle.
Bland is heard saying that the officer “just slammed my head to the ground.”
Later, when a female officer arrives at the scene, Encinia tells her that Bland “started yanking away, then kicked me, so I took her straight to the ground.”
NBC News reported that Texas Department of Public Safety authorities “said late Tuesday they were looking into alleged edits” to the 52-minute dashcam video:
At several points in the video of Bland’s arrest, posted Tuesday to the department’s YouTube channel, video of a person walking or a car driving by are cut or repeat themselves as the audio continues uninterrupted.
DPS spokesman Tom Vinger told NBC News that he could not speculate on whether the video was edited. “I will have to check in the morning. I can’t speculate without looking at the CD,” he said, referring to the original recording of the video.
NBC added that “the apparent edits to to the video, first reported by documentarian and writer Ben Norton, raised the suspicions of people following Bland’s story, suspicions authorities sought to allay with the video’s release.”
The investigation into Bland’s jail-cell death is being treated “just as it would be in a murder investigation,” Waller County District Attorney Elton Mathis said at a news conference Monday evening. Mathias clarified on Tuesday that it is standard practice for any suspicious death in police custody is investigated this way.
“There are many questions being raised in Waller County, across the country and the world about this case. It needs a thorough review,” Mathis said, noting that the case “will go to a grand jury,” the Associated Press reported. The Texas State Rangers have launched an investigation into Bland’s death, with the supervision of the FBI.
In his arrest warrant, Encinia wrote that Bland was pulled over for failing to signal a lane change and he “had Bland exit the vehicle to further conduct a safe traffic investigation.”
According to Encinia, “Bland became combative and uncooperative.”
“Numerous commands were given to Bland ordering her to exit the vehicle,” Encinia wrote. “Bland was removed from the car but became more combative.”
He added that Bland was handcuffed “for officer safety” but she “began swinging her elbows at me and then kicked my right leg in the shin.” Encinia said he suffered from pain in his right leg and had small cuts on his right hand.
“Force was used to subdue Bland to the ground to which Bland continued to fight back,” he added.
Bland was charged with assault on a public servant then booked in the Waller County Jail, where she later died.
“There are questions that need to be answered as it relates to the arrest,” noted West, who added that what transpired in the arrest would be part of the ongoing investigation.
Asked whether Bland deserved any blame for the events that led to her arrest and death, West replied: “No.”
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick cautioned that everyone should wait for the facts of the case to unfold before making a determination about blame.
“There’s a rush to judgment too often in America,” Patrick said at the press conference on Tuesday. “But here in Texas, I can tell you that we believe in total transparency and we will find the truth wherever that leads.”
“If indeed she took her own life, that is a question that has to be asked,” he added.
Encinia, who has been a state trooper for about a year, was placed on administrative duty on Friday pending the outcome of the investigation, according to the Texas Department of Public Safety, which said that the officer violated the agency’s procedures during the traffic stop.
“Regardless of the situation, the DPS state trooper has an obligation to exhibit professionalism and be courteous,” said DPS Director Steve McCraw. “That did not happen in this situation.”
Bland’s immediate family members and their attorney met privately with Mathis and Waller County Judge Trey Duhon on Tuesday morning for what Duhon called a “very positive meeting” that lasted an hour.
“The family expressed some their concerns and the fact that they still have many questions that need to be answered,” Duhon said. “It was important to express to the family that my current administration and officials in Waller County are completely committed to an open and transparent investigative process.”
An autopsy from the Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences has classified Bland’s death as suicide by hanging, and the Waller County Sheriff’s Office, which administers the jail in which Bland died, said her death appeared to be from “self-inflicted asphyxiation.”
That determination was fiercely questioned by Bland’s family and friends, who said it was “unfathomable” that the woman they knew would take her own life. Bland’s family has called for an independent autopsy.
“It is very much too early to make any kind of determination that this was a suicide or a murder because the investigations are not complete,” Mathis told reporters.
Mathis noted that “there are too many questions that need to be resolved. Ms. Bland’s family does make valid points. She did have a lot of things going on in her life for good.”
Bland was moving from the Chicago suburbs to Texas for a job at her alma mater, Prairie View A&M University, when she was pulled over near the campus on July 10.
She “became argumentative and uncooperative” during the arrest, the Texas Department of Public Safety said last week, and was taken into custody by a state trooper on a charge of assault on a public servant. After a weekend in the Waller County Jail, Bland was found dead on the morning of July 13.
During Monday’s press conference, Mathis said investigators would look for DNA and fingerprint traces on the plastic bag that was used in her death.
The Waller County Sheriff’s Office has now released video footage of the jail in which Bland died. The video does not show what happened in Bland’s cell, but it does capture who entered and exited that cell in the hours before and after her death, authorities said.
The video of the hours before Bland’s death, reviewed by CBS affiliate KHOU, shows an officer stop at her cell at just after 7 a.m. on July 13. The officer “visually noted she was in good health,” Capt. Brian Cantrell, a spokesman for the Waller County Sheriff’s Office, told reporters.
“Ms. Bland contacted the main control room, via intercom, at 7:55 a.m.,” Cantrell said. “Ms. Bland was inquiring on how to make a phone call.”
Just before 9 a.m., the video shows a female officer approach the cell, peer in, and then ask another officer for help.
“The jailer looked through the window and observed Ms. Bland hanging from her privacy partition in her cell,” Cantrell said. “I’d also like to reiterate that she was found in a semi-standing position with ligatures surrounding her neck. Ms. Bland was then placed on the floor for jailers to perform CPR.”
Cantrell described Bland’s death as “a tragic incident, not one of criminal intent or a criminal act.”