AUSTIN (CBSDFW.COM/AP) — Sandra Bland died in a jail near Houston after a confrontational traffic stop in 2015 and Texas lawmakers spent part of Friday on a mission to learn more about the cell phone video she took during the incident that her family claims officials with the Department of Public Safety (DPS) tried to hide.
The clip begins at the most dramatic moment of the July 2015 traffic stop near Prairie View A&M University: Trooper Brian Encinia has opened Bland’s car door and draws his stun gun as she tries to steady her phone’s camera. The flashlights on the stun gun flick on and Encinia yells, “Get out of the car! I will light you up. Get out!”
Bland was found hanging in her jail cell in Waller County three days after her arrest for not signaling a lane change. Her death and dashcam video showing Trooper Brian Encinia trying to pull the 28-year-old woman out of her vehicle became flash points in the debate over the treatment of black people by police.
“When you lose a child, that feeling of loss is never going to go away and no matter what we do, there’s nothing that is going to say that we’ve addressed the reason that she lost her daughter.” Those words today from State Representative Garnet Coleman (D-Houston) as Bland’s mother, Geneva Reed-Veal, sat listening to the state house committee meeting.
Coleman convened the meeting in response to the release of the 39-second cellphone video and accusations of a DPS coverup from the Bland family.
Court records show family attorneys repeatedly asked for all videos, sound and tape recordings in the case. However, the family’s lead attorney says he never saw the footage shot by Bland until a non-profit investigative group network brought it to his attention.
“Thank you again for giving us the opportunity to refute this gross misinformation that’s been reported to the public regarding the discovery process, both civil and criminal,” DPS director Steve McCraw said during the meeting. “Clearly, we have an obligation to fully comply with those rules, those laws, those guidelines and the department takes those very seriously.”
Despite those claims, federal court records revealed DPS and the Texas Attorney General opposed requests from the family’s lawyers to turn over crucial evidence. Citing an ongoing investigation into Encinia, DPS claimed it was immune from lawsuits.
During one exchange at the meeting Coleman said, “That video… under the law as it stands, could have been secreted forever,” to which DPS officials responded “It was in our discretion to exercise that exemption, we chose not to.”
Coleman then asked, “Do you think it’s good public policy that in this case… that this information would never have been available to the public?” DPS answered, “I don’t think that’s good public policy, no.” As each side went back and forth Coleman said, “I appreciate your opinion and I hope that we change it, this session.”
Representative Coleman was the lawmaker who introduced the Sandra Bland Act. It became law in 2017 and requires county jails to send people with mental health and substance abuse issues into treatment.
As for the committee meeting in Austin, it was more talk that ended with no changes.