HOUSTON (AP) — The family of a black woman found dead in a Texas jail three days after a confrontation with a white state trooper filed a wrongful-death lawsuit Tuesday against the officer and other officials, saying it was a last resort after being unable to get enough information about the case.
Sandra Bland, a 28-year-old Chicago-area woman, was found dead in her Waller County jail cell in Hempstead on July 13. Her family and others have criticized Trooper Brian Encinia, who stopped Bland for failing to signal a lane change. Video of the stop shows the confrontation quickly escalated after Encinia asked Bland to put out her cigarette.
"This family's motivation is that they don't want to see this sort of thing happen again to another family," attorney Cannon Lambert said during a news conference in Houston.
Lambert expressed dismay that Encinia remains on administrative leave rather than being fired by the Texas Department of Public Safety. The trooper, on the force for just over a year, has been placed on administrative leave for violating unspecified police procedures and the department's courtesy policy.
"We are asking for bold, decisive action," he added. "The fact that it hasn't happened yet is a frustrating thing."
Bland's mother, Geneva Reed-Veal, holding a Bible during the news conference, said the events that led to her daughter's death began with an unwarranted traffic stop. "The bottom line is she never should have been inside the jail cell. Period," she said.
Lambert called on the Department of Justice to launch its own investigation, saying the case needs a fresh and unbiased look. He said information the family has received from law enforcement has been inconsistent, which raises concerns about what has and hasn't been given to them.
County and state officials have released findings of an autopsy, surveillance video showing Bland being booked into the jail, her jail intake records and other material.
Authorities said Bland hanged herself inside her jail cell. Her family has questioned that finding but on Tuesday acknowledged the possibility.
"In the face of Sandy being the light that she was, it is very difficult for them to get their minds around the notion that she would hurt herself," Lambert said. "At the same time, this family is aware of the possibility."
The lawsuit names the Texas Department of Public Safety, Encinia, the Waller County Sheriff's Office and two jailers, Lambert said. The 46-page lawsuit seeks a jury trial for unspecified damages.
Calls to Waller County District Attorney Elton Mathis and other county officials were not immediately returned.
Bland was in Prairie View, northwest of Houston, when she was stopped July 10 for a minor traffic infraction. Dashcam video shows the confrontation 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 eventually was arrested for allegedly assaulting the trooper.
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.
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(Photo: Texas Department of Public Safety via AP, File)