The Houston Chronicle reports that a Waller County, Texas, grand jury has indicted Brian Encinia, the state trooper who arrested Sandra Bland, for perjury based on a statement he made in his report on the traffic stop that ended with her in handcuffs. Dashcam video of the July 10 incident shows that Encinia, who pulled Bland over for changing lanes without signaling, lost his temper after she declined his request that she put out her cigarette. That was the point at which he ordered her out of her car, informed her that she was under arrest, grabbed her, and threatened her with a Taser. But in his arrest report Encinia claimed that "I had Bland exit the vehicle to further conduct a safe traffic investigation."
The grand jurors did not buy that. "They just didn't believe it," said special prosecutor Darrell Jordan. "A warrant will be issued, and we'll go from there." The perjury charge is a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail and a maximum fine of $4,000.
The announement suggests that the grand jury rejected other possible charges against Encinia, such as false imprisonment and assault and battery. And since Bland, who was found dead of an apparent suicide at the Waller County jail three days after Encinia arrested her, probably would still be alive if he had kept his cool and acted more professionally, the misdemeanor charge seems rather unsatisfying. But at least the grand jury, which last month declined to indict jail personnel in connection with Bland's death, recognized the way that Encinia tried to cover up the embarrassing details of his encounter with Bland. The Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) already has said Encinia's conduct violated DPS policy.
The false statement that struck the grand jurors goes to the heart of Encinia's justification for forcing Bland out of her car. It's pretty clear this escalation had nothing to do with his safety and everything to do with his desire to assert his authority while punishing Bland for her insuffiently meek attitude. Yet the Supreme Court has said a police officer may order a legally detained motorist out of his car at will, no matter how implausible the officer safety rationale is in any particular case. That sort of blanket license to boss people around is bound to be abused, in this case with fatal consequences.
Update: After the indictment, DPS announced that it will "begin termination proceedings" against Encinia, who has been on desk duty since Bland's death.