By Jeffrey L. Boney
Special to the NNPA News Wire from the Houston Forward Times
The Houston Forward Times (HFT) has been covering the latest developments in the case of Sandra Bland. In July of this year, the HFT wrote an article entitled “Wrongful Death: What Happened to Sandra Bland?” in which it was still unknown whether 28-year-old Sandra Bland was murdered by Waller County law enforcement officials or whether she committed suicide.
Whatever the cause of death there is one thing for certain; it was a wrongful death and the family of Sandra Bland has since filed a wrongful death lawsuit to get justice and answers to what actually happened to their loved one.
Bland, an African American female, was found hanging in a jail cell by a plastic bag on Monday, July 13, 2015. She had recently come back home to Texas to take a job at her alma mater, Prairie View A&M University, when she was stopped on Friday, July 10, by Waller County State Trooper Brian Encinia, who verbally and physically confronted Bland.
Another driver recorded cell phone video of the incident and you can here Bland telling the officers that she is in pain and cannot hear after her head was slammed on the ground by the male arresting officer. Authorities immediately released reports saying Bland hanged herself in her Waller County jail cell – which is about 60 miles northwest of Houston – three days after having her head slammed to the ground and being arrested for allegedly getting into a physical altercation with an officer during a routine traffic stop – Bland supposedly failed to signal a lane change.
This past Thursday, December 17, concerned citizens and community activists from all across the Greater Houston area gathered downtown in front of the Bob Casey Federal Courthouse to hold a Sandra Bland Solidarity Rally. The rally was held prior to the second status hearing on the case in U.S. District Court Judge David Hittner’s court that same day.
Supporters outside the federal building chanted Sandra Bland’s name repeatedly and after the rally, flooded Judge Hittner’s courtroom to show strength in numbers and support for the family of Sandra Bland. The courtroom was packed with roughly 100 people, with the hallways outside the courtroom filled with about 50 more supporters who could not get in.
“The community, Houston and the surrounding area and across the country are standing with [the Bland family] in support of getting justice,” said Jinaki Muhammad , who serves as the National Black United Front’s (NBUF) Vice Co-Chair of Women’s Affairs. “Our actions here today let the judge, and the world know, that the family of Sandra Bland is not alone. We know that nothing could replace losing a loved one, but we will continue to show the family support over the next year as the legal process continues to play out on their pursuit towards justice.”
After the hearing, that lasted a little more than an hour, Judge Hittner set a trial date for January 23, 2017, as it relates to the lawsuit filed by the family of Sandra Bland. The family seeks unspecified damages from the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS), Trooper Brian Encinia, the state trooper who arrested her; Waller County; as well as two jailers.
Several key issues during the hearing were being considered, including which agencies could be immune from the lawsuit, along with whether or not information gathered in the criminal investigation should be allowed. A grand jury is considering whether to issue criminal indictments.
The attorney for DPS and Trooper Encinia argued that both, DPS and Encinia, should be immune from the lawsuit based on the law. The attorneys for the Bland family disagree and are making the argument that they need the evidence that is currently being presented to the grand jury in the ongoing criminal case, in order to make their arguments in the civil lawsuit.
“We’re not even sure that the plastic bag was fingerprinted,” said the Bland’s family attorney Cannon Lambert. “If the grand jury is supposed to be trying to make a determination on whether or not there should be an indictment, you’d think that the instrument of death would have been fingerprinted. We don’t have any evidence to indicate that’s the case.”
The family of Sandra Bland was also at the rally and hearing Thursday.
“I’m coming here in front of you to let you know, I am not okay coming out of this hearing today,” said Geneva Reed-Veal, the mother of Sandra Bland. “I have not celebrated one holiday without her and it is tough. I want all of you to know Sandy was more than a hashtag. That’s what I want everybody to know. Sandra Bland was more than a hashtag. And we will continue fighting for justice for her.”
The Houston Forward Times will continue to follow this story and provide updates as they arise.