Tom Rhodes Law Firm P.C. We Speak up for Those Who Cannot Speak for Themselves

Sandra Bland Case May Proceed to Grand Jury Next Month

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.