The family of Sandra Bland – the 28-year-old black woman found dead in her jail cell last month – is suing the Texas state trooper who arrested her in what started as a routine traffic stop, but took a tragic turn.
Bland’s family filed the suit in Houston on Tuesday, alleging wrongful death and also seeking damages from officer Brian Encinia, Waller County Sheriff Glenn Smith, two jailers and the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS).
“Candidly we were unable to get many of the answers that we have been asking for for weeks,” the family’s attorney, Cannon Lambert, said at a press conference. “We are looking for Waller County and individuals involved in this situation to take accountability.”
Waller County officials did not immediately respond to NBC News’ request for comment.
Encinia first pulled over Bland on July 10 for changing lanes without signaling as she was driving in Prairie View, Texas, where she was soon to start a new job. From there a verbal scuffle between Encinia and Bland became physically hostile. Video of Bland’s arrest went viral after footage showed Encinia brandishing his taser and threatening to “light [Bland] up” after she refused to put out her cigarette. More video from Encinia’s cruiser dashcam showed the trooper wrestling Bland to the ground to handcuff her. She was charged with assault on an officer. Three days later, her body was recovered from her jail cell. Authorities have said Bland hanged herself with a plastic garbage can liner.
DPS has already condemned Encinia’s actions and said publicly that he violated the department’s protocols. Encinia has been placed on desk duty pending an investigation into the traffic stop.
Encinia was still relatively a rookie at the time of his interaction with Bland. He had been with Texas DPS for little more than a year prior to the arrest after completing a six-month trooper academy in 2014. He started working at Blue Bell Creameries after graduating from Texas A&M. He worked as a supervisor there for five years before entering law enforcement.
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The Bland family is asking that the Department of Justice conduct an external investigation into her death. “It is requiring a fresh set of eyes, an unbiased set of eyes,” Lambert said. Texas lawmakers, meanwhile, have asked that the feds also examine policing practices in Waller County to determine whether systemic issues need to be addressed.
Coroners have determined that Bland’s formal cause of death was a suicide. But a flurry of conspiracy theories rose in the wake of her death as her family and activists questioned why a woman with seemingly promising prospects would choose to take her own life.
“As a mother, my inner is telling me that she did not do that,” Bland’s mother, Geneva Reed-Beal, said Tuesday. “If the facts show without a doubt that that is not the case, I will have to deal with that. But the bottom line is that she never should have been in the jail. Period.”