A grand jury decided on Monday not to indict anyone in connection with Sandra Bland’s death in a Texas county jail last summer. The grand jury will reconvene next month to “take up remaining issues,” including whether or not state trooper Brian Encinia – the officer who arrested Bland – should face criminal charges.
“After reviewing all the evidence in the death of Sandra Bland, a Waller grand jury did not return an indictment in the death of Bland, nor were any indictments returned against any employee of the Waller County Jail,” said Darrell Jordan, one of five special prosecutors handling the case.
Bland is the 28-year-old African American woman who died in police custody in July. Authorities initially ruled it a suicide, but after pressure from the Bland family and the public – which spread news of the death using the hashtags #JusticeForSandy and #WhatHappenedToSandraBland – the Waller County, Texas District Attorney announced that the death would be investigated as a homicide.
“Right now the biggest problem I have is the entire process. It’s the secrecy of it all,” said Geneva Reed-Veal, Bland’s mother, at a press conference after the grand jury’s decision. “I simply can’t have faith in a system that’s not inclusive of my family. We’re supposed to have an investigation to show us what’s happening. We know what we’ve been listening to in the media … but we don’t have any real evidence.”
In August, the Bland family filed a wrongful-death lawsuit naming Encinia as well as the two guards at Waller County Jail. According to the lawsuit, guards at the jail did not check on Bland frequently enough, and failed to act when Bland refused meals. Additionally, the lawsuit accuses Encina of using excessive force during the arrest, which “caused Sandra Bland to suffer injury and death.”
Attorneys representing the County filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit last month. Last week, however, a federal judge set the trial date for January 23, 2017.
In the footage of Bland’s arrest, Encinia yells “I will light you up!” after threatening to drag Bland out of the vehicle. Bland can be heard telling him, “Don’t touch me. I’m not under arrest.” As the traffic stop escalates, she is also heard saying, “you slammed my head into the ground, do you even care about that? I can’t even hear.”
“What happened to Sandra Bland is outrageous,” said Feminist Majority Foundation President Eleanor Smeal. “She should never have been ordered to leave her car in the first place and never have been arrested. This was a minor traffic violation that the officer escalated because he was challenged by a Black woman who knew her rights. How many more Black and Latino people have to die before we make fundamental change in police recruitment and training, and overhaul a justice system that is permitting police brutality with impunity?”
Bland’s death is one in a series of violent incidents against African-American women, sparking a national movement to #SayHerName.
Media Resources: CNN 12/21/15; Feminist Newswire 7/22/15; Chicago Tribune 12/22/15; New York Times 8/4/15; AP 12/18/15