Unable to Get Answers: Sandra Bland's Family Files Lawsuit - NBC Connecticut
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Unable to Get Answers: Sandra Bland's Family Files Lawsuit

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    Family of Sandra Bland Files Lawsuit Against Texas Authorities

    The family of Sandra Bland turned the tables on Texas law enforcement Tuesday by filing suit against the trooper who arrested her and others they say are responsible for her jail cell death. NBC Chicago's Michelle Relerford reports. (Published Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2015)

    The family of Sandra Bland filed a lawsuit against the trooper who arrested her and others they say are responsible for the suburban Chicago woman’s death in a Texas jail cell.

    The lawsuit was filed Tuesday at the federal courthouse in Houston against Trooper Brian Encinia and “others responsible for the death of Sandra Bland,” including the Waller County Sheriff's office and two guards at the jail, according to the family’s attorney.

    "The reason we filed a lawsuit today is because candidly we were unable to get any of the answers that we have been asking for for weeks," said attorney Cannon Lambert. "We are looking to hold the people accountable for her being stopped, and mistreated and who are ultimately responsible for her death."

    Bland, a 28-year-old Chicago-area woman, was found dead in her Waller County jail cell on July 13, three days after her arrest. Officials say she used a plastic bag to hang herself, a finding her family has questioned.

    "I am still confident in the fact that [Sandra] knew enough about Jesus that she would not take herself out," said Bland's mother Geneva Reed-Veal. "Anything is possible, I wasn't there, but as a mother my inner is telling me that she did not do it. I am the first to tell you that if the facts show without a doubt that that was the case, I’ll have to be prepared to deal with that, but the bottom line is she never should have been inside of the jail."

    Lambert said the family, despite their attempts to obtain information, has not yet received details like Bland's time of death or police reports that were filed.

    "I don't think it's unreasonable that we be seeking these things," he said. "Those are the types of things that we need in order for our independent investigation to be complete."

    Bland's family and others have criticized Encinia, who stopped Bland for failing to signal a lane change. The family on Tuesday called for him to be "relieved" of his duties.

    "We know that this type of thing can be done, that he can be relieved," Lambert said. "We're asking for bold, decisive action and that has not happened."

    Dashcam video released by officials showed a confrontation between Bland and Encinia swiftly escalated after she objected to being told to put out her cigarette. Encinia at one point is seen holding a stun gun as he says, "I will light you up!" after Bland refuses to get out of her car. Bland, who was black, eventually was arrested for allegedly assaulting the white trooper.

    Texas authorities said that Encinia violated procedures and the department's courtesy policy during the traffic stop and was placed on administrative leave.

    "I've watched the video once and I will not watch it again," said Reed-Veal. "Anger, disgust, disappointment and sadness-- those are my feelings. I have chosen to channel those feelings in another way... Justice is going to be served, if the justice system will do what it's supposed to."

    Some Texas politicians, including state Sen. Royce West, have said that Bland should not have been arrested in the first place.

    Bland's death came after nearly a year of heightened national scrutiny of police and their dealings with black suspects, especially those who have been killed by officers or die in police custody.

    "I have many people around me who are very angry and it’s rightfully so but we’re going to channel this the right way," said Reed-Veal.

    According to his personnel file, Encinia was selected for the Trooper Trainee Academy in December 2013, joined the Department of Public Safety in June 2014 as a probationary trooper and completed his probation in June 2015, becoming a Highway Patrol trooper.

    An initial toxicology report was released for Bland that two experts said raised the possibility that she may have used marijuana while in custody. Prosecutor Warren Diepraam has said information on her marijuana use may be relevant to the case in determining her state of mind.

    A committee of outside attorneys will assist Waller County District Attorney Elton Mathis in investigating Bland's death.

    "I don't know if we'll ever get an answer to all the questions," said attorney Lewis White of Sugar Land, one of the committee members. "But our job is to get answers. There are going to be answers some people don't like."

    The Texas Rangers and the FBI are investigating the case.

    "We have a young lady who was on her way to get groceries," said Bland's sister Sharon Cooper. "She ends up jailed, she ends up dying in police custody. We are three weeks out from her death, we are a week out from burying her and we still don't know what happened to her."