39 Second Video Revives Calls For New Inquiry Into Sandra Bland's Death
NOEL KING, HOST:
The death of Sandra Bland is back in the news. Bland is the 28-year-old black woman who was arrested in 2015 by a Texas state trooper during a traffic stop. Three days later, she was found dead in her jail cell. And her death was ruled a suicide. Now, the main record of her arrest came from the state trooper's dashboard camera. Then this week, another video surfaced publicly. It was from Sandra Bland's own cell phone. It is 39 seconds of the encounter with the trooper.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
SANDRA BLAND: You just opened my car door. So you're going - you're threatening to drag me out of my own car.
BRIAN ENCINIA: Get out of the car.
BLAND: And then you're going to stun me.
ENCINIA: I will light you up. Get out...
BLAND: Wow. Wow.
ENCINIA: Get out of the car.
BLAND: For a failure to signal - you're doing all of this for a failure to signal.
ENCINIA: Get over there.
BLAND: Right, yeah. Yeah. Let's take this to court.
KING: OK. The trooper, Brian Encinia, was indicted on a charge of perjury. That was the only criminal charge he faced. I talked to one of Sandra Bland's sisters, Sharon Cooper, about the significance of this video.
SHARON COOPER: When families are impacted by a fatality due to police brutality, there is this incessant need for them to be put on trial in the court of public opinion and not just them but the victim and the loved one that they've lost. And so what this video shows is that what happened to Sandy should have never happened to her. She should have never been arrested. And what we get to see in that video is what her experience was like from her personal vantage point.
KING: Texas law authorities said in a statement that this video was not newly discovered. They said it was part of the investigation. But Cooper says she had no idea it existed.
COOPER: It's not something that we saw. And if it's something that we saw, then we would have been making a greater demand for him to be charged with perjury. But he also should have been charged with assault as well. I think there was a lack of clarity from all those who saw the dashcam footage. But I think what this video shows is what happened inside of the car, which you don't get to see in that grainy dashcam footage.
KING: You and your family always believed that the story that was told was not the full story. But as you were watching the video, what did you feel like you understood?
COOPER: I understood that she was so passionate about being a part of criminal justice reform and police accountability to the degree that she'd have the courage to tape an encounter that was unpleasant with the full intent, I imagine, of going to file a complaint against Brian Encinia. She even says it herself in the video.
KING: Let's take this to court, she says. Doesn't she?
COOPER: Yes. She absolutely says, let's take this to court. And so I think we know that she got out of that car because she felt that if she didn't get out of the car that she would have been tazed to death. Just the impact of the words, I will light you up - I don't think that Brian Encinia expected to encounter someone who knows their rights. I think a lot of citizens don't know their rights when you get pulled over for a traffic violation.
KING: What, if anything, do you think would be different if this video had been made public right from the start of the investigation?
COOPER: I think there would have been an immediate amount of empathy for what transpired in the field and how that impacted her. So much of the conversation around Sandra's case lied within what happened in the field and what she should have done. And, essentially, there's a swath of people who felt like she deserved to be there because of what they perceive that she did based off of the narrative that the police officer shared.
KING: You were talking about people who say, but she was aggressive with the police officer. He should...
COOPER: Right, right.
KING: ...Have taken her out of the car. She was yelling back at him.
COOPER: And it's never that she was yelling back at him. It was this notion that she was aggressive with him in her car. And what you see is that she never was the aggressor, even up until the very last end of the video. She even refers to him as sir.
COOPER: That's a mannerable (ph) way to speak to someone. It's not until she has her face in the ground with his knee in her back that she becomes increasingly frustrated - rightfully so because she's being assaulted.
KING: And the trooper was not, in fact, convicted. The deal that was struck was that he would leave law enforcement forever and not return. Is that right?
COOPER: What he agreed to do was render his law enforcement license in the state of Texas, OK? He can't be a police officer in Texas, but he can be a police officer anywhere else. And he might very well be.
KING: What would you like to see happen now? Would you like to see the investigation reopened?
COOPER: While we'd like to see someone charged, unfortunately, the special prosecutors robbed us of that. They made the decision to dismiss the charges. So while, ideally, we would like to see Brian Encinia held accountable for his actions in the field equally as we'd like to see Waller County jailers held accountable for the negligence that was shown in the jail, what we have focused our efforts on over the last couple of years is to enact action and change in other ways.
KING: You sound resigned to the fact that you won't get justice for your sister. Are you?
COOPER: I am not. I am not. And I'll tell you why - because if you don't get the justice that you feel is due to you in the court of law, there are ways for you to enact change through partnering with legislators to make sure that there are laws in place so that there is not another Sandra Bland.
KING: If you were given the opportunity to sit down with the trooper who pulled your sister over, would you take it? And if you would, what would you say to him?
COOPER: I absolutely would take it. And I would ask him, what was he thinking that day? - and why he failed to de-escalate the situation. And I'd also ask him to - what he plans to do to fix it.
KING: You're not saying you want to yell at this man. You're not saying you want to blame him. You're saying you want to ask him...
COOPER: We blame him unequivocally without a shadow of a doubt.
KING: You do. You do.
COOPER: And I'm happy to tell him as much. I have always felt Sandra being unlawfully arrested and that resulting in her wrongful death in police custody was influenced by his behavior in the field. What happened to Sandy was rooted in cause and effect. And that's on him to take accountability for that. And he's never probably done that to this family. So I would definitely tell him that - absolutely.
KING: Sharon Cooper is Sandra Bland's sister. Prosecutors dismissed Encinia's perjury charge. And in exchange, he agreed to never work in law enforcement again. His lawyer tells NPR that Encinia could technically apply for another law enforcement job outside the state of Texas but has sworn he will not because, quote, "he wants this nightmare behind him."
(SOUNDBITE OF ALFA MIST'S "MULAGO") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.