The state trooper who arrested Sandra Bland for assault in Waller County, Texas, leading to her imprisonment in jail and her death while in police custody of apparent asphyxiation, has been indicted by a grand jury for lying about their encounter during a routine traffic stop.
The charge leveled against Texas Department of Public Safety Trooper Brian Encinia is a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in prison and a $4,000 fine, the Houston Chronicle reported.
The perjury charge was related to Encinia's initial statement following the escalation of the traffic stop, in which he pulled the 28-year-old black woman over for changing lanes without signaling. The special prosecutor in the case, Phoebe Smith, said that the "grand jury didn't believe that statement was truthful," according to the New York Times.
During the traffic stop, Bland got into an argument with Encinia after he asked if she was irritated, and asked her to extinguish her cigarette which she refused to do. Encinia then demanded that she step out of the car, which she said she was not required to do. In a dashcam video of the incident, Encinia can be seen opening her car door and ordering her out of the vehicle without explanation before threatening her with a Taser. "I will light you up!" he yells.
In reporting the arrest, Encinia claimed that Bland had assaulted him.
Bland was subsequently arrested and booked into a Waller County jail. Three days later she was found dead in her cell, a plastic garbage bag around her neck. Authorities say that she hung herself — but her family and supporters have strongly refuted the claims, insisting she was in an optimistic state of mind at the time of her arrest and looking forward to a new job.
Inconsistencies in documents pertaining to Bland's arrest and detention, as well as allegations that police footage of her encounter with the trooper was edited and her family's insistence that she was not suicidal, led much of the public to be skeptical of evidence that jail officials provided about her hanging.
The Department of Public Safety later said it found that Encinia had violated the agency's "procedures regarding traffic stops and the department's courtesy policy" in the course of the traffic stop, but did not offer details.
Activists were quick to demand that Attorney General Loretta Lynch and Senator Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) launch an investigation into Bland's death. In August, Bland's family filed a wrongful death suit against Encinia, the Texas Department of Public Safety, the Waller County Sheriff's Office, and two of her jailers, accusing them of being responsible for her death.
It was not until December that Texas prosecutors convened a grand jury to look into the circumstances of Bland's death. Later that same month, the grand jury decided that that no indictments would be issued relating to Bland's death.
Encinia's indictment on Wednesday falls short of demands from activists and community members who have called for the trooper to be indicted for wrongful arrest and alleged assault of Bland.