At this point, so many things have been said about the tragic arrest, detention, and mysterious death of Sandra Bland, there are probably few readers that haven’t at least heard of the story. The young woman, a graduate and soon-to-be employee of Prairie View A&M University, was sent to jail from what should have been a traffic stop.
But video of that first encounter reveals some serious problems occurred before Ms. Bland was placed in Waller County Jail.
As the Texas Standard reports, the dashcam video makes it perfectly clear that officer Brian Encinia violated Bland’s rights…
Questions, in the wake of the video: What are the rules? Not policies or politeness – specifically, what are your rights when you’re pulled over by police?
Jim Harrington, director of the Texas Civil Rights Project, speaks with Texas Standard about the footage of the arrest, point-by-point. Here’s a transcript of the conversation, edited for brevity and clarity:
The trooper asks, “You mind putting out your cigarette please?” And Ms. Bland says, “Well, I’m in my car – why do I have to put out my cigarette?” Does she have to put out her cigarette?
“No, she doesn’t have to put out her cigarette. And you wonder why the officer is even bothering with that. This is part of his escalation of the whole event that unfolded, unfortunately.”
The next part: “Step out of the car.” Ms. Bland says, “You do not have the right.” He interrupts – “I do have the right, step out of the car or I will remove you.” Does he have the right, first, to order her to step out of the car, and second, to actually physically remove her from the car?
“He does not have the right to say get out of the car. He has to express some reason. ‘I need to search your car,’ or, whatever; he needs to give a reason. He can’t just say ‘get out of the car’ for a traffic offense.”
It’s one thing to say he has a reason; it’s another to say he has to give a reason. He may have had probable cause, or thought he had it, we don’t know. Does he have to state it?
“He doesn’t have to state probable cause; he has to state some reason … And that’s part of the training that he should have had about how to de-escalate a situation. She’s clearly upset about what happened, particularly – as we know later on – that she moved over because he was tailing her. … He should be working on de-escalation. That’s the key. ”
It’s difficult to know all the facts regarding the Sandra Bland case once she was taken to Waller County jail. But this video does not lie. Still, it’s true that many people have different opinions of the situation. Why didn’t Sandra Bland comply with the officer’s requests?
But here’s a critical fact in this case… her decision whether or not to comply with officer Encinia should not matter. In that moment while Encinia was wearing the badge of law enforcement, it was his responsibility to follow the law and respect Ms. Bland’s rights, whether she knew them or not, and whether she was “compliant” or not. It was also his responsibility not to escalate the situation further. Does officer Encinia cart every single person that makes a rude comment within his earshot to jail? Would any of us in our jobs be allowed such power as to control what other people say and think?? He did not have to like Sandra Bland, but he did have to respect her rights, including her right to say things that he doesn’t like.
Currently, officer Encinia is currently on administrative leave. As the situation develops and more pressure is placed upon Waller County, it will interesting to see if he faces any charges for his behavior in the situation.