AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Cellphone video recorded by Sandra Bland, a black woman found dead in a Texas jail following a confrontational 2015 traffic stop, shows for the first time her perspective as a white state trooper draws his stun gun and points it at close range while ordering her out of her car.
Bland was found hanging in her jail cell outside Houston three days after her arrest. Her death and dashcam video showing Trooper Brian Encinia trying to pull the 28-year-old Chicago-area woman out of her vehicle became flashpoints in the debate over the treatment of black people by police.
The clip begins at the most dramatic moment of the July 2015 traffic stop near Prairie View A&M University: Encinia has opened Bland’s car door and draws his stun gun as she tries to steady her phone’s camera. The flashlights on the stun gun flick on and Encinia yells, “Get out of the car! I will light you up. Get out!”
Bland exits the car and continues to record Encinia as he orders her onto the sidewalk. The stun gun is still pointed at her and the flashlights remain on. He instructs her to get off the phone, to which Bland replies, “I’m not on the phone. I have a right to record. This is my property.”
The video ends seconds later after Encinia tells her to put the phone down.
The emergence of the cellphone video raised questions about who had seen it until now. Cannon Lambert, an attorney for the Bland family who settled lawsuits against the state of Texas and the Waller County Jail that totaled nearly $2 million combined, said he never saw the clip until it was recently shared by a news reporter.
Lambert said he didn’t see the video in evidence turned over by investigators, which he said he wanted to believe was just human error. Democratic state Rep. Garnet Coleman, who in 2017 sponsored the “Sandra Bland Act” that Bland’s family criticized for being weakened before it was signed into law, said Monday night he would look into why the family never saw the footage.
“It is troubling that a crucial piece of evidence was withheld from Sandra Bland’s family and legal team in their pursuit of justice,” Coleman said in a statement.
The Texas Department of Public Safety disputed the premise that the video was not provided, saying it was included as part of a large hard drive of evidence from the investigation. It also said Bland’s cellphone video had previously been publicly released in 2017, when it was given to an Austin television station under open records law.
Katherine Cesinger, a spokeswoman for the Department of Public Safety, said “the existence of the cellphone video was known to all parties” at the time and that two years after the family’s lawsuits it is “unclear what arrangements, if any, were made by the plaintiffs to view the video.”
Encinia, who was fired after being indicted for perjury over the traffic stop, said he came to fear for his safety after stopping Bland for failing to signal a lane change.
“The video makes it abundantly clear there was nothing she was doing in that car that put him at risk at all,” Lambert said.
The perjury charge was later dropped in exchange for Encinia agreeing to never work in law enforcement again.
That Bland was holding up a cellphone is clear in the original dashcam footage. Chip Lewis, Encinia’s attorney, said the cellphone footage doesn’t illuminate anything beyond what the dashcam video already showed.
He said “furtive gestures” made by Bland from inside her car presented a risk and was the impetus for Encinia trying to remove her.
“From a law enforcement standpoint, it had nothing to do with her being agitated as you may have seen on her recording,” Lewis said.