Trooper's attorneys want second grand jury in Bland arrest case

AUSTIN, Texas (Texas Tribune) -- Attorneys for former Texas Department of Public Safety trooper Brian Encinia, accused of perjury in connection with his controversial 2015 arrest of Sandra Bland, say they will ask a judge to let a second grand jury reconsider Encinia's indictment. And if Encinia does go on trial, his attorneys want the proceeding moved out of Waller County, they said.

Encinia was indicted in March 2015 for allegedly lying in the report he filed on Bland's arrest. 

Encinia stopped Bland – who failed to signal a lane change – on July 10, 2015 in Prairie View. Their conversation soon became heated, ending with Bland on the ground and under arrest for assaulting a public servant. The 28-year-old Illinois woman was found dead in her Waller County jail cell three days later. Her death has been ruled a suicide by hanging.

A Tuesday status hearing on the case before state District Judge Albert McCaig Jr. was canceled because part of Encinia's legal team wasn't available. The hearing has been rescheduled for January. But Encinia attorney Larkin Eakin Jr. said his side will ask the judge to let another grand jury consider whether Encinia's statements in the arrest report have been misconstrued. Encinia's team has not yet filed any motions in the case, according to the district court's electronic records.

If a new grand jury were to decide against indicting Encinia, that might end the case.

"It's not 100 percent," Eakin said, "but 99 times out of 100, yes, that would be the result." 

Bland's arrest and death drew national attention, in part due to the video of the traffic stop recorded by a dashboard camera inside Encinia's patrol car. In the video, the former trooper opens Bland's driver's side door and reaches in for her. She refuses to come out, and Encinia threatens to use a Taser on her.

But in his report, Encinia wrote: "I had Bland exit the vehicle to further conduct a safe traffic investigation." In January, a Waller County grand jury focused on that statement before indicting Encinia on a charge of perjury, a class A misdemeanor with a maximum penalty of one year in jail and a $4,000 fine.

Eakin has said the state can't prove beyond reasonable doubt that Encinia intended to deceive when he wrote the statement.

Cannon Lambert, an attorney for Bland's family, said the dashboard camera video shows that Encinia lied in his report about why he had Bland exit her car.

"I don't feel there's anything in the video that would support the basis that he offered for stopping her," Lambert said, "and it's clear that there are inconsistencies that he should be held to account for."

In September, Bland's mother, Geneva Reed-Veal, settled her wrongful death lawsuit against Encinia, Waller County and several of its employees for $1.9 million and agreed upon policy changes. Encinia, who was fired by DPS after his indictment, is challenging his termination, a fight one of his attorneys said will likely move forward after the criminal case is settled.



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