Twenty-eight-year-old Sandra Bland made headlines in July when she was
found dead in her Waller County, Texas jail cell. Bland, who hanged herself
with a garbage bag after being arrested by officer Brian Encinia during
a minor traffic stop, is now the subject of a federal lawsuit in which
Attorney Tom Rhodes is of co-counsel.
During a recent court hearing on the case, Tom Rhodes and the legal team
representing Bland’s mother urged a timely trial date and called
to attention the lack of information they’ve received from the state
about the investigation. At one point during the Tuesday hearing, U.S.
District Judge David Hittner told the lawyers to inform him if there were
any unreasonable delays in obtaining information. When he stated “You
let me know,” Attorney Tom Rhodes reply of “How about now?”
garnered handclaps and murmurs from the courtroom audience, which included
a number of Bland supporters.
The investigation is expected to conclude within the next few days and
may be presented before a grand jury as early as next month.
Bland was an African American, and her case is one of many highly-scrutinized
cases involving encounters between black suspects and cops. The dash cam
video of the traffic stop, which involved a minor offense for failing
to signal a lane change, shows footage of the arrest. Encinia alleges
that Bland became uncooperative and combative, and suffered small cuts
to his hand and a kick to the shin. He instructed her to exit the vehicle
because she was being placed under arrest. When she asked about the charge,
she was threatened with forcible removal and a Taser, and was thrown to
the ground and handcuffed.
In a voicemail to a friend a day after her arrest, Bland explained her
confusion about how a simple traffic stop could have landed her in jail.
After three days, Bland was found dead in her cell by apparent suicide.
Her family has disputed the medical examiner’s finding and has requested
an independent autopsy.
Her family has sued the officer that arrested Bland in a wrongful death
lawsuit against Encinia, two employees of the Waller County Jail, and
the Texas Department of Public Safety. The suit alleges negligence on
the part of Waller County Jail specifically for not checking on inmates
face-to-face. The Sheriff’s office admitted to not performing these
checks, but maintains that this was not a factor in Bland’s death.
The family also alleges that Encinia falsified information in order to
take Bland into custody, and that once there, she was not evaluated for
any history of depression or suicide attempts. According to Attorney Rhodes,
"they gave her the tools, if she were suicidal, to accomplish that."
Encinia has been placed on administrative duties after reviewing the video
of the arrest, citing procedural violations regarding the department’s
courtesy policy and traffic stop policies.