Sandra Bland

Lawsuit Blames State Police and Local Jail for Sandra Bland's Death

Bland's mother says "she never should have been inside of a jail."

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Yesterday Sandra Bland's mother, Geneva Reed-Veal, filed a federal lawsuit against the Texas trooper who arrested Bland on July 10 and two employees of the jail where she was found dead three days later. The complaint, which also names Waller County and the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) as defendants, claims that Trooper Brian Encinia violated Bland's constitutional rights by arresting her under false pretenses and that two screening officers at the Waller County Jail, Elsa Magnus and Oscar Prudente, failed to adequately monitor her. Reed-Veal argues that the state and county share responsibility for the actions and omissions of their employees because they did not properly train and supervise them.

Although Encinia charged Bland with assaulting him, which was the official reason she ended up in jail, the complaint says it was the other way around. After stopping her for changing lanes without signaling, he asked her to put out her cigarette. When she questioned his authority to make her do that, he ordered her out of the car, opened the door and grabbed her, forced her out by threatening her with a Taser, and handcuffed her. That much is clear from the dashcam video of the traffic stop. The lawsuit adds that Encinia tackled Bland, knocked her head against the pavement, and kneeled on her back. Although those actions cannot be seen in the video, Bland can be heard complaining about them. By contrast, we seem to have only Encinia's word that Bland kicked him, which was his ultimate justification for arresting her.

The lawsuit alleges that Encinia invented that detail to justify the arrest, but it does not delve into the question of why he was handcuffing her in the first place. As I noted a few weeks ago, Encinia declared that Bland was under arrest after she refused to get out of her car, but he never explained why. According to the Supreme Court's reading of the Fourth Amendment, police officers may order motorists out of their vehicles during routine traffic stops without any special justification. It's somewhat less clear whether Texas law allows cops to arrest drivers simply for refusing to obey that order, but that seems to be what Encinia was doing. The complaint ignores that issue, merely asserting that Encinia was not "privileged to take the action, as such force was not necessary under the circumstances."

Encinia, of course, disagrees, although he also skirts the question of what offense Bland committed while still sitting in her car. "I had Bland exit the vehicle to further conduct a safe traffic investigation," he says in his report on the incident, which the lawsuit quotes. "Bland became combative and uncooperative. Numerous commands were given to Bland ordering her to exit the vehicle. Bland was removed from the car but became more combative. Bland was placed in handcuffs for officer safety." He neglects to mention that he informed Bland she was under arrest well before she allegedly assaulted him.

DPS said Encinia's treatment of Bland violated department policy. But prior to his encounter with Bland, the lawsuit says, Encinia had been "reprimanded for unprofessional conduct" and had "exhibited a pattern of escalating encounters with the public." It says  DPS "was responsible for training its law enforcement officers…wiith regard to how to conduct a proper vehicle stop, but failed to fully, adequately, and properly do so." It adds that DPS "failed to properly evaluate its law enforcement personnel's qualifications, training, demeanor, and fitness for duty." 

The lawsuit faults Magnus and Prudente, the jail employees, for "failing to provide adequate monitoring of Sandra Bland to keep her safe and secure." Specifically, it says, they left her alone in a cell "with a variety of inappropriate items," including "a large garbage can, garbage bags [one of which Bland apparently used to hang herself], exposed beams [ditto], cords, and other items." The complaint says they also "failed to appropriately respond when Sandra Bland did not eat the meals provided to her" and when she "had bouts of uncontrollable crying." The lawsuit notes that Bland was allowed to call friends and relatives the day after her arrest but not on the following two days, which may have compounded her feelings of isolation.

Waller County Sheriff R. Glenn Smith has said he is considering disciplinary action against jail personnel in light of Bland's death. The lawsuit argues that the county shares responsibility for any failures because jail employees were "inadequately trained on the procedures for recognition, supervision, documentation, and handling of inmates who are mentally disabled, and/or potentially suicidal." The jail also "failed to have an established procedure for visual, face-to-face observation of all inmates by jailers no less than once every 60 minutes." Both of those failures violate state regulations. The county nevertheless promises to "vigorously defend the case."

While Bland might very well still be alive if the jail had followed state-mandated practices, its failure to do so would never have affected her if Encinia had better controlled his anger at her insufficiently subservient attitude. "The bottom line," as Reed-Veal observed at a news conference yesterday, is that "she never should have been inside of a jail." 

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  1. Even though DPS disciplined the trooper over his behavior and admitted that the jail violated its own rules, when they settle this lawsuit there will be no admission of wrongdoing.

    1. Well sure. Real consequences and admitting they were in the wrong might just imply something needs to change.

  2. Failure to Obey: the most heinous crime of all.

    1. …meanwhile, simple compliance – not a difficult concept – would have had this woman on her way, in short order.
      She sure showed them.

  3. Hell, even Arlo pointed out it was standard practice in the 1960s to take belts and shoelaces (and toilet paper!) from prisoners before leaving them alone in a jail cell.

  4. The cop clearly ordered the woman out of the car out of spite. The order had nothing to do with his safety nor did it serve an investigatory purpose. I think that older case law is distinguishable from this set of facts. This case may very well make it to the Supreme Court if it’s not settled.

    1. I hope not, I don’t want to give SCOTUS another chance to further empower the police state.

    2. As long as the police are given the presumption that it’s okay to do whatever they feel like doing to protect themselves from any risk, then cops are going to abuse people and claim that some vaguely threatening behavior justifies their action.

  5. Bland was placed in handcuffs for officer safety

    There it is again. The presumption that police get to do whatever they want to suspects to protect themselves from the slightest risk.

    Yes, let’s just preemptively handcuff people because they *might* try to throw a punch.
    Let’s shoot people because they *might* be a threat.

    1. Hell yea! If one pound puppies are threats, what are 100 pound women, chopped liver?

      1. After the sadist in uniform gets through with her, yes.

  6. It is now a fact that breaking any law,no matter how trivial,can come with a death sentance.And not ‘respecting’ the badge is the worse one.

    1. By showing disrespect to the badge, you indicate to the officer that you are a threat. You might spit on him, possibly scratch, and at the very least hurt his feelings. He’s entitled to do whatever is necessary to eliminate the threat.

      1. Yes but what about throwing your Blue Steel at them?

    2. You don’t even have to break the law. If a cop unlawfully stops you and then issues unlawful orders, you can still be executed for failure to obey. And nothing else will happen.

      1. You are breaking their law,don’t you understand? They can kill with a word.

    3. An acquaintance on facebook posted the New Yorker profile of Darren Wilson, calling it “biased but interesting.” I commented with your exact sentiment, that we’ve fallen so far from our liberal roots that any sign of disobedience to authority can be met with deadly force, but I deleted it because what’s the point? She’s a granola lefty who considered the article biased because it painted Wilson in too favorable a light (e.g., it failed to note the horns sprouting from Wilson’s forehead). There’s no sense from such people that the loss of liberty and individual sovereignty is a problem. Instead it’s purely a racial problem.

      1. I believe that shooting a unarmed person is all most never justified.This highly train ‘hero’s’ should be able to subdue a ‘civilian’. And many times it’s 2,3,4,5 on one.

      2. The Pledge needs to be updated from “liberty and justice for all” to “subservience and social justice for all.”

        1. The notion of “pledging” one’s “allegiance” is pretty antiquated, too. Pledging, as if one has a choice, and then only offering up one’s allegiance rather than unwavering fealty and subordination. We should rename it the Acceptance of Servitude.

      3. I thought he came across as a racist asshole.

        There seems to be some anxiety among some white people that only black people are going to reap the rewards of any positive change that may come from the BLM movement. But they shouldn’t worry. White people will always get to benefit first and most.

        1. Know who else is a racist asshole?

          (Gotta be someone else besides Tony. ‘Cause he ain’t fixated on skin color. No sir, no way it could be Tony.)

          1. I just can’t come up with any other answer than Tony. Except Tony is a genocidal racist, not just a run-of-the-mill trailer trash redneck racist.

        2. I thought he came off as a racist asshole.

          [Here, let me show you what a racist asshole looks like.]

          Thanks for the illustration!

    4. – “It is now a fact that breaking any law,no matter how trivial,can come with a death sentance.”

      You know, I get as pissed off about abuse of LEO authority as the next sane person, but this kind of batshit-crazy (and illiterate) rhetoric is what keeps the libertarian movement from catching on more. Did the cop and jailers do the wrong thing? Yep. Should they be taken to task for it? Hell yes. But does that mean that they killed the woman?

      In the absence of even a shred of evidence to support such an assertion the rational individual refrains from jumping to wild conclusions.

  7. BRB, listening to NWA all day

  8. This “training” bullshit kills me. I realize it has become part of the formalized dance which the lawsuits represent, but still. The cops need to fire these touchy motherfuckers, and put them on a blacklist, not send them to a thirty minute sensitivity training seminar.
    Oh, right, there’s a contract, entered into by two politically and financially interdependent parties acting in collusion against the taxpayers.

    1. acting in collusion against the taxpayers

      Well put.

    2. And a unarmed man agaist 3 cops has to be shot seveal times,even when he’s down.Training worked huh?

  9. The question still remains as to why Bland’s family didn’t try to bail her out of jail. I saw a reporter ask her mother that question on television news yesterday, but she wouldn’t answer. When asked why she wouldn’t answer she seemed very offended, mumbled something about it being the wrong question, and got up and left the room. Apparently any question she didn’t care to answer is the “wrong question.”

    1. How is this relevant, though?

    2. Didn’t have the means, apparently. I’m guessing she didn’t choose to stay jailed out of convenience. Truth be told, I would probably think hard about whether spending a few days in the clink is worth $500 to me.

    3. The question still remains as to why Bland’s family didn’t try to bail her out of jail.

      Which begs the real question:

      Why was she jailed at all?

    4. Bailing someone out of jail can be a pain in the ass, just think of the worst day dealing with the DMV and multiply it by 10. Add to that on a weekend, in another state, etc…
      Even if they were trying to deal with this if you’re arrested on a Friday it’s doubtful you’ll be processed out before Monday at the earliest in a best case.

    5. *psssst*

      some people are poor

      *ssshhh*

    6. She was arrested on a Friday. The earliest she could reasonably be released on bond was Monday afternoon, assuming the family could get everything in order over a weekend.

  10. Of course, the arrest looks really fishy (comment to their lawyers, I didn’t say illegal, I don’t know what’s OK in Texas).

    And jailors need to be responsible for people who die in their custody.

    Now, it seems that Ms. Bland got suicidal after being arrested. That’s very depressing, since she could have surmounted this and got on with her life.

    So thank you for getting me all depressed.

    1. it seems that Ms. Bland got suicidal after being arrested.

      The question of why and how she was marinating in THC, according to the coroner, leaves a wide-open question in my mind of whether she committed suicide at all.

    2. There’s way more than that. She apparently was also epileptic and was not given access to her medications. It is not as cut-and-dried as all that.

      1. Moreover, she claims in the video that the officer bashed her head against the pavement. Something like could easily cause traumatic brain injury, which is associated with changes in mood and behavior. It’s entirely possible that her suicide, if it was a suicide, was a direct result of the officer’s violence against her.

  11. a wide-open question in my mind of whether she committed suicide at all.

    I *wish* I could dismiss, out of hand, the notion that a group of cops and jailers could engage in a conspiracy to commit murder. I can’t.

  12. This is allllll wrong. If Ms. Bland hadn’t gotten uppity with her betters, none of this would have happened. NONE of it.

    Cause and effect – it’s a bitch.

  13. “When she questioned his authority …”

    That was when she died. That’s what it’s always about.

    You WILL Respect My AUTHORITAH!

    “Bland became combative and uncooperative. Numerous commands were given to Bland ordering her to exit the vehicle.”

    Bland refused to bend over on demand, and become uppity. She was assaulted, threatened, and ordered to bend over numerous more times, but still failed to comply. She was dragged from her car, further assaulted, tortured, bound, and put in a cage. Now she is dead.

    Maybe this will teach the peasants to bend over on demand.

  14. that didn’t take long-easier to mourn with a couple mil.

    1. Likelihood of getting the officers fired: Very low

      Likelihood of actually keeping the officers off the force in the long run: Practically nil

      Likelihood of getting the officers indicted: Low

      Likelihood of the officers being charged appropriately: Very low

      Likelihood of getting the officers convicted if indicted: Extremely low

      Likelihood of getting a settlement or favorable civil judgment: Very high

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