Cop Involved in Death of Sandra Bland May Only Get $4k Fine, 1-Yr if Convicted

Cameron Langford | Courthouse News Service

Bump in the Road in Sandra Bland Case

HOUSTON (CN) – The former Texas state trooper at the center of the Sandra Bland story won’t be deposed for a lawsuit from the dead woman’s mother until his related criminal case concludes, a federal judge ruled.

Brian Encinia scored a minor victory Thursday when U.S. District Judge David Hittner granted his motion to stay the wrongful death lawsuit, finding his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination would be imperiled if he had to give deposition testimony.

Encinia pulled Bland over on July 10, 2015, for failing to signal a lane change and arrested her after they argued and tussled. She was found dead in her cell three days later.

Officials said Bland, 28, hanged herself with a plastic bag.

Her family disputes that.

Bland died in the jail in Hempstead, the county seat, an hour northwest of Houston.

Bland’s mother, Geneva Reed-Veal, sued the Texas Department of Public Safety, Encinia, Waller County and two of its jailers on Aug. 4.

The 18-count lawsuit seeks punitive damages for wrongful death, willful and wanton conduct, assault and battery and civil rights violations.

In her third amended complaint, filed on Jan. 19, she dropped the Department of Public Safety as a defendant and added 10 employees of the Waller County Sheriff’s Department, whom she claims were negligent or committed civil rights violations by “failing to provide adequate monitoring of Sandra Bland to keep her safe and secure” in the county jail.

A Waller County grand jury indicted Encinia on Jan. 6 on a charge of misdemeanor perjury.

The one-count indictment states that Encinia attested under oath in an arrest report that he “had Sandra Bland exit the vehicle to further conduct a safe traffic investigation … such false statement being false in that [Encinia] removed Sandra Bland from her vehicle because he was angry that she would not put out her cigarette.”

He pleaded not guilty at his March 22 arraignment.

His next hearing is set for May 17.

If convicted of the Class A misdemeanor, he faces up to a year in jail and a $4,000 fine.

To keep the civil case moving without Encinia, Hittner ruled that Reed-Veal’s attorneys can depose all the Waller County defendants and others whose testimony they believe will help bolster Reed-Veal’s claims.

“Plaintiff estimates that there are over 50 depositions that need to be taken in this case,” Hittner wrote in the 10-page order.

“Waller County declined to submit additional briefing on this issue, and Encinia has not met his burden to prove a stay of the entire case, including the Waller County defendants, is warranted.”

The Department of Public Safety fired Encinia on March 1 because of the perjury indictment. Encinia has appealed his termination to the Texas Public Safety Commission, a five-member board that oversees the department, his criminal attorney Larkin Eakin said.

Published by Courthouse News Service.

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