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Activists gathered in front of the Waller County courthouse Thursday to denounce a decision by prosecutors to drop a perjury charge against a since-dismissed state trooper who pulled over Sandra Bland.
Bland hanged herself in the Waller County jail two years ago after being pulled over by the trooper for an improper lane change. Their interaction turned confrontational and ended with Bland jailed for three days.
The group of five activists blasted the decision to drop charges and asserted that the judge had shown sympathy with law enforcement in other cases.
Cole said the Bland family holds onto faith in a just a God. “There will be a day,” she said. “Every pharaoh has a day.”
“There are a lot of good law enforcement officers,” Cole added. “This is not about, ‘There’s nothing but bad law enforcement.’ … The bad guys should be recognized for bad things, and the good guys should be recognized for all the good they do in our communities.”
The Rev. Hannah Bonner, a United Methodist pastor in Waller County who has long spoken out on the Bland case, argued that law enforcement accountability requires more than just criminal charges.
“We need to make the trigger harder to pull,” she said. “And that is why we need convictions, not just indictments.”
Blanca Rodriguez Alanis, with the Autonomous Houston Brown Berets, said the dismissed charges against Encinia fit a national pattern of the criminal justice system allowing officers to “continue getting away with murder.”
All the activists pointed to other controversial incidents across the country, including the recent strangling death of John Hernandez in Houston after a fight with the husband of a Harris County sheriff’s deputy. A grand jury indicted both the husband and the deputy, who helped restrain Hernandez, with murder.
The Bland case has deepened racial divisions in rural Waller County, home of the historically black Prairie View A&M University where Bland was to work.
Minutes after the activists’ news conference, a white man at a nearby restaurant who declined to give his name grumbled that all Bland needed to do to avoid jailing was “follow the f***ing law.”
He dismissed the idea that the trooper may have violated procedures or the woman’s civil rights.
The special prosecutors assigned to the Bland case agreed to drop the charge under the condition that Encinia, who had been terminated by the Texas Department of Public Safety, turn over his police credentials and sign a sworn statement promising not to seek work as a licensed peace officer in Texas or elsewhere.
Phoebe Smith, a private lawyer in Sugar Land tapped by the Waller County District Attorney to prosecute the case along with attorney Chad Dick, said she felt terrible about the family’s loss, but she didn’t want to risk the possibility of a jury acquitting Encinia.
“We dismissed it based on the fact that he permanently surrendered his license,” she 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.”
Bland had recently relocated to Prairie View in Waller County from Illinois when Encinia pulled her over on July 10, 2015, for failing to signal a lane change. After a verbal exchange, Encinia asked her to step out of the car and booked her — after holding her to the ground — for becoming combative.
After Bland’s death, a Waller County grand jury indicted Encinia for making false statements about the circumstances surrounding her arrest.
The charge stemmed from a statement he made in a one-page sworn statement filed after Bland’s arrest that he removed her from her Hyundai Azera to “further conduct a safe traffic investigation.”
A police officer told the Chronicle he overheard Encinia telling another officer — while Bland waited in a squad car — that he didn’t know what charges he should file.
Encinia, who had been with DPS a little more than a year at the time, had been disciplined by the DPS for “unprofessional conduct” in the two months leading up to Bland’s arrest, according to state records. He was given written counseling and received later evaluations as “competent.”
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