A Texas state trooper was charged with perjury on Wednesday in connection with a contentious traffic stop last summer when a black woman, Sandra Bland, wound up arrested for assault and died in jail three days later.
A grand jury indicted Trooper Brian Encinia with the misdemeanor count, alleging he lied about how he removed 28-year-old Bland from her vehicle during the July traffic stop. The same Waller County grand jury had decided last month not to indict any sheriff's officials or jailers in Bland's death, which was ruled a suicide.
The Chicago-area woman had remained jailed following her arrest because she couldn't raise about $500 for bail. Encinia, who has been on paid desk duty since Bland was found dead in her jail cell, also faces a wrongful death lawsuit filed by Bland's family.
The misdemeanor charge carries a maximum penalty of a year in jail and a $4,000 fine.
Encinia, who is white, pulled Bland over on July 10 for making an improper lane change near Prairie View A&M University, her alma mater, where she had just interviewed and accepted a job. Dashcam video from Encinia's patrol car shows that the traffic stop quickly became confrontational.
The video shows the trooper holding a stun gun and yelling, "I will light you up!" after Bland refuses to get out of her car. Bland eventually steps out of the vehicle, and Encinia orders her to the side of the road. The confrontation continues off-camera but is still audible.
Bland's sister, Shante Needham, has said Bland called her from jail the next day, saying that she'd been arrested but didn't know why, and that an officer had placed his knee in her back and injured her arm.
Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw later said Encinia violated internal agency policies of professionalism and courtesy.
Bland was arrested for assault on a public servant. The department said Bland "became argumentative and uncooperative" during the traffic stop, and Encinia wrote in an arrest affidavit that Bland swung her elbows at him and kicked him in the shin.
Bland was taken in handcuffs by another officer to the county jail in nearby Hempstead, about 50 miles northwest of Houston. She was found three days later, on July 13, hanging from a jail cell partition with a plastic garbage bag around her neck.
Her family has said they had been working to get money for her bail when they learned of her death.
Bland's arrest and death came amid heightened national scrutiny of police and their dealings with black suspects, especially individuals who were killed by officers or who died in police custody.
The Associated Press