Attorneys for the family of Sandra Bland told a local news outlet that they settled a wrongful death suit with the Texas Department of Public Safety and the Waller County jail for $1.9 million. The Waller County jail will pay the bulk due to state statutes capping settlements with the Department of Public Safety.
Also included in the wrongful death settlement were conditions requiring the Waller County jail to implement safety procedures that may have saved 28-eight-year-old Bland’s life.
Bland’s mother, Geneva Reed-Veal, told local reporters that the jail must provide emergency nurses for all shifts, use automated electronic sensors (to ensure accurate and timely cell checks), and actively seek additional state funds providing more support for jail intaking, inmate screening, training and support. Any legislation passed that benefits the jail, she said, must be named in her daughter’s honor.
Sandra Bland died in police custody after being pulled over for improperly signaling a lane change. Three days later, she was found dead in a jail cell, days before she was scheduled to start a new job at her alma mater, Prairie View A&M University. The exact details of her death remain murky. Police officers say that Bland died by suicide, which is corroborated by an autopsy report. Her family, however, insists that she wouldn’t have killed herself.
Thanks in part to social media, Bland’s arrest and subsequent death went viral. The arresting officer, Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) Officer Brian Encinia, claimed Bland was arrested after assaulting him at the traffic stop, but a widely-circulated video of the incident shows Encinia escalating the encounter. At one point while the two are out of view of the dash-cam, Bland can be heard saying “You knocked my head in the ground and I got epilepsy,” to which Encinia responds, “Good.”
In December 2015, a Texas grand jury declined to indict anyone in Bland’s death. In January, however, Encinia was indicted for perjury based on a statement he made in his report about his encounter with Bland. (Encinia was fired by the DPS after he was indicted.) The charge reportedly stems from his statement about why he pulled Bland out of the car. The misdemeanor charge Encinia faces carries a comparatively minor sentence of up to a year in jail and a $4,000 fine. At his arraignment in March, he pleaded not guilty.
In July, a Prairie View, TX police officer, Michael Kelley, came forward to say that a local prosecutor and police officials suppressed facts about Bland’s arrest.
Kelley had arrived at the scene of Bland’s arrest while Bland and Encinia’s struggle was off camera, and saw a large mark on Bland’s head. The incriminating details were removed from his report before it was filed, he says, and he also says that he was pressured by the prosecutor not to testify about what he saw in court. Waller County District Attorney Elton Mathis denied any wrongdoing on his or his employee’s part.