Sandra Bland’s Family Speaks Out After Grand Jury Won’t Indict Anyone in Her Death

Family members and supporters are demanding justice for Sandra Bland after a grand jury failed to indict anyone for her death. Bland, an African-American woman, was arrested on July 10 in Prairie View, Texas, after she allegedly failed to signal a lane change. She was jailed with bond set at $5,000. Three days later, she was found dead in her jail cell. Authorities say she committed suicide, a claim her family rejects. The family has filed a wrongful death suit and wants charges against the officer who arrested her. Will anyone be held to account for Sandra Bland’s death? We are joined by Sandra Bland’s mother, Geneva Reed-Veal; her sister, Sharon Cooper; and family attorney, Cannon Lambert.

TRANSCRIPT

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Family members and supporters are demanding justice for Sandra Bland after a grand jury failed to indict anyone for her death. Bland, a 28-year-old African-American woman, was arrested on July 10th when a traffic stop escalated into a confrontation with the officer involved. Three days later, her body was found hanging from a trash bag inside her jail cell. Authorities say she killed herself, a claim her family rejects. They’ve also questioned why Bland was arrested and jailed in the first place, and why she was kept behind bars for so long.

AMY GOODMAN: Sandra Bland had recently moved to Texas to start a job at Prairie View A&M University, her alma mater. She was driving near campus when Texas State Trooper Brian Encinia pulled her over and accused her of failing to signal a lane change. Police dash cam video, that captured part of the arrest, shows Encinia threatening to forcibly remove Bland from her car.

TROOPER BRIAN ENCINIA: You seem very irritated.

SANDRA BLAND: I am. I really am, because I feel like it’s crap, what I’m getting a ticket for. I was getting out of your way. You were speeding up, tailing me, so I move over, and you stop me. So, yeah, I am a little irritated, but that doesn’t stop you from giving me a ticket, so.

TROOPER BRIAN ENCINIA: Are you done?

SANDRA BLAND: You asked me what was wrong, and I told you.

TROOPER BRIAN ENCINIA: OK.

SANDRA BLAND: So now I’m done, yeah.

TROOPER BRIAN ENCINIA: OK. You mind putting out your cigarette, please?

SANDRA BLAND: I’m in my car. Why do I have to put out my cigarette?

TROOPER BRIAN ENCINIA: Well, you can step on out now.

SANDRA BLAND: I don’t have to step out of my car.

TROOPER BRIAN ENCINIA: Step out of the car.

SANDRA BLAND: Why am I –

TROOPER BRIAN ENCINIA: Step out of the car.

SANDRA BLAND: No, you don’t have – no, you don’t have the right – you do not –

TROOPER BRIAN ENCINIA: Step out of the car!

SANDRA BLAND: You do not have the right to do that.

TROOPER BRIAN ENCINIA: I do have the right. Now step out, or I will remove you.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: As the dash cam video continues, Officer Encinia escalates the situation when he threatens to “light [Sandra Bland] up.”

SANDRA BLAND: Why am I being apprehended? You’re trying to give me a ticket for a failure –

TROOPER BRIAN ENCINIA: I said get out of the car.

SANDRA BLAND: Why am I being apprehended? You just opened my car door.

TROOPER BRIAN ENCINIA: I’m giving you a lawful order. I am going to drag you out of there.

SANDRA BLAND: You opened my car door. So you’re going – you’re threatening to drag me out of my own car?

TROOPER BRIAN ENCINIA: Get out of the car!

SANDRA BLAND: And then you’re going to assault me? Wow.

TROOPER BRIAN ENCINIA: I will light you up! Get out! Now!

SANDRA BLAND: Wow.

TROOPER BRIAN ENCINIA: Get out of the car!

SANDRA BLAND: Really? For a failure to signal? You’re doing all of this for a failure to signal?

TROOPER BRIAN ENCINIA: Get over there!

SANDRA BLAND: Right, yeah. Yeah, let’s take this to court. Let’s do it.

TROOPER BRIAN ENCINIA: Go ahead!

SANDRA BLAND: For a failure to signal. Yeah, for a failure to signal.

TROOPER BRIAN ENCINIA: Get off the phone!

SANDRA BLAND: On my school.

TROOPER BRIAN ENCINIA: Get off the phone!

SANDRA BLAND: I’m not on the phone. I have a right to record. This is my property.

TROOPER BRIAN ENCINIA: Put your phone down.

SANDRA BLAND: This is my property.

TROOPER BRIAN ENCINIA: Put your phone down!

SANDRA BLAND: Sir?

TROOPER BRIAN ENCINIA: Put your phone down! Right now! Put your phone down!

SANDRA BLAND: For a [bleep] failure to signal, my goodness.

TROOPER BRIAN ENCINIA: Come over here!

SANDRA BLAND: Y’all are – y’all are [inaudible].

TROOPER BRIAN ENCINIA: Come over here now!

SANDRA BLAND: You feeling good about yourself?

TROOPER BRIAN ENCINIA: Stand right here.

SANDRA BLAND: You feeling good about yourself?

TROOPER BRIAN ENCINIA: Stand right there.

SANDRA BLAND: For a failure to signal. You feel real good about yourself, don’t you?

TROOPER BRIAN ENCINIA: Turn around. Turn around.

SANDRA BLAND: You feel good about yourself, don’t you?

TROOPER BRIAN ENCINIA: Turn around now!

SANDRA BLAND: What are you –

TROOPER BRIAN ENCINIA: Put your hands behind your back and turn around.

SANDRA BLAND: Why am I being arrested?

AMY GOODMAN: Sandra Bland can later be heard on video accusing the police officer of slamming her head into the ground. She said she had epilepsy, to which Trooper Encinia replies, “Good.”

SANDRA BLAND: You just slammed my head into the ground! Do you not even care about that? I can’t even hear! You slammed me into the ground and everything! Everything!

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Sandra Bland was jailed and given $5,000 bond. Three days later, she was found dead in her cell in the Waller County jail in Texas. On Monday, a Texas grand jury rejected charges in connection with her death. Although the prison officers wouldn’t face charges, Encinia could still be indicted when the grand jury reconvenes next month. Special prosecutor Darrell Jordan said the case remains open.

DARRELL JORDAN: It has been a very, very long day, for us, as well as the grand jury. After presenting all the evidence as it relates to the death of Sandra Bland, the grand jury did not return an indictment. The grand jury also considered things that occurred at the jail, and did not return an indictment. There are other issues that the grand jury is still considering, and they will take up those issues when we return next month.

AMY GOODMAN: Bland’s family is calling for charges against Encinia when the grand jury reconvenes. A wrongful death suit by the family names Encinia along with two Waller County jail guards, the Texas Department of Public Safety and Waller County. The family has also criticized the secrecy of the grand jury, whose deliberations are sealed. On Tuesday, protesters marched outside the Waller County Courthouse and in Houston to call on the Justice Department to bring federal charges against the officers involved. Sandra Bland is one of many African Americans whose death in police custody has galvanized the nation’s Black Lives Matter movement and sparked demands for structural change in how police treat people of color.

Well, the family of Sandra Bland is here now to talk about the case. We will be joined by her sister in a moment, but we are joined now by Geneva Reed-Veal, who is Sandra Bland’s mother. And we’re joined by Cannon Lambert, the attorney representing Sandra Bland’s family.

Let’s go first to Geneva Reed-Veal. Your response to the grand jury yesterday saying that they would not indict anyone in relation to Sandra’s death in the Waller County jail?

GENEVA REEDVEAL: I’m disappointed, but not surprised. I just have to say right now that we were looking for transparency, and that’s not what we have been experiencing in this whole journey here. So I’m, again, disappointed, but not surprised.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Cannon Lambert, as the attorney for the family, your response to this recent development?

CANNON LAMBERT: Well, frankly, I think you have to first understand what it is that a grand jury does and what it is, in general. A grand jury is nothing more than an appendage or a tool of the prosecutor. What they do many times is, is that they’ll convene a grand jury for the purposes of then saying, “Well, look, we submitted evidence to a grand jury.” They assess that evidence, and then they come back, and they realize that there’s no reason for there to be an indictment. But in reality, those secretive proceedings are shrouded with problems and shrouded with misconception. The bottom line is, is that you don’t know what evidence is being submitted. The prosecutor acts as the judge. There is no judge that actually oversees the proceeding. The prosecutor – excuse me – gets to cherry-pick whatever evidence they want to submit and then withhold whatever evidence they want to withhold. So they get to pick what it is that they want to present. And then, thereafter, they’re able to even go into using hearsay when they want to, unlike in ordinary judicial proceedings and the like. So, we’re not even allowed to be present, right? We’re not allowed to test any of the evidence that they offer. We’re not allowed to offer any evidence ourselves. So there’s a whole big problem with what it is that grand juries do in the first place.

But over and above that, the problem that I have in this particular case with this grand jury is, is that the five special prosecutors that were supposed to appoint – that were appointed by the DA of Waller County, they were supposed to be looking at this from the standpoint of assessing it as a homicide, according to Elton Mathis. But the lead special prosecutor, Paul Looney, two months ago, in a Huffington Post ad – article, he indicated they were not looking at Waller County to determine whether or not they had done anything criminal, but instead they were just looking prospectively to see if there was something they could do to suggest changes that they might make in the future. They didn’t look at this from the standpoint of trying to establish whether or not there was anything criminally done. And so, as a consequence, we find ourselves feeling very uncomfortable about this whole process.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break and then come back to this discussion. We’re joined by Sandra Bland’s mother, Geneva Reed-Veal, as well as the attorney for the family, Cannon Lambert. And we’ll be joined by Sandra’s sister, Sharon Cooper. Stay with us.