A fired Texas trooper pleaded not guilty Tuesday to a charge of misdemeanor perjury stemming from his arrest last summer of Sandra Bland, a black woman who was later found dead in a county jail.
The charge against Brian Encinia was dropped after he agreed to surrender his state law enforcement license and certification and to never again seek work in law enforcement in any capacity, according to court documents. Encinia also agreed to never seek to have the charge against him expunged.
If he violates the agreement, he faces having the case against him renewed, according to the documents.
“Brian and his family appreciate the thoughtful review by the prosecutors,” Encinia’s attorney, Chip Lewis, said in a prepared statement. “Dismissal was the right thing to do.”
An attorney for Bland’s family, Tom Rhodes, didn’t immediately return a message seeking comment.
State Rep. Garnet Coleman criticized the dismissal.
“It is upsetting that the prosecutors decided to drop the charge of perjury against Trooper Encinia,”
Coleman, a Democrat from Houston, said in a statement. “The trooper’s actions were the catalyst for Ms. Bland’s death, and his roughing up of Ms. Bland was unacceptable. I’m sorry to Ms. Bland’s family for how poorly Texas has treated their loved one.”
During the recent Legislature, Coleman proposed the “Sandra Bland Act,” in which he initially asked for more police accountability and safeguards against racial profiling by police. Before being signed into law, the bill was drastically slimmed down to focus on better training for jail workers and mental health care access for inmates.
Bland’s death in July 2015 provoked national outrage and drew the attention of the Black Lives Matter movement.
The 28-year-old Chicago-area woman was found dead in her cell at the Waller County Jail outside Houston three days after Encinia, who is white, pulled her over for not signaling a lane change. Authorities say Bland hanged herself with a plastic garbage bag.
A Waller County grand jury indicted Encinia after video from his patrol car contradicted his claims that Bland assaulted him without provocation. The Texas Department of Public Safety then fired Encinia.
Encinia pulled Bland over in Prairie View, northwest of Houston. Bland, who was in the process of moving to Texas, had accepted a job at Prairie View A&M University, a school she had attended.
Dash-cam video from Encinia’s car shows the traffic stop quickly became confrontational. The video shows Encinia drawing his stun gun after Bland refuses to get out of her car and telling Bland, “I will light you up!” Bland can later be heard screaming off-camera that Encinia was about to break her wrists and complaining that he knocked her head into the ground.
Encinia wrote in his affidavit that he had Bland exit the vehicle and handcuffed her after she became combative, and that she swung her elbows at him and kicked him in his right shin. Encinia said he then used force “to subdue Bland to the ground,” and she continued to fight back. He arrested her on suspicion of assault on a public servant.
Encinia said in the affidavit that he removed Bland “from her vehicle to further conduct a safer traffic investigation,” but members of the grand jury found that statement to be false.
Bland’s family, which had filed a wrongful-death lawsuit, reached a settlement last year with the county, Texas Department of Public Safety and Encinia for $1.9 million.