Thursday, January 07, 2016

Trooper who threatened to 'light up' Sandra Bland indicted for perjury

How interesting and impressive that state trooper Brian Encina from the Sandra Bland episode was indicted for perjury yesterday and then promptly fired by the TX Department of Public Safety. Reported the NY Times:
The charge against Brian T. Encinia is a Class A misdemeanor and was announced Wednesday at the end of a day of grand jury deliberations. The charge carries a possible penalty of one year in jail and a $4,000 fine, prosecutors said.

The charge stemmed from a one-page affidavit that Encinia filed with jail officials justifying Bland’s arrest. She was pulled over in a routine traffic stop in Prairie View, northwest of Houston, for failing to use her turn signal. Bland, 28, who was black, was returning to Texas in July to take a job at her alma mater, Prairie View A&M University.

Encinia wrote that he removed Bland from her car to conduct a safe traffic investigation, but “the grand jury found that statement to be false,” a special prosecutor, Shawn McDonald, said.

A police dashboard camera video of the episode shows an escalating confrontation after Bland refuses Encinia’s request to put out a cigarette. At one point, Encinia says he will forcibly remove her from her car and threatens Bland with a Taser, saying, “I will light you up.”
I bet you could do a word search in affidavits by DPS troopers on the phrase "safe traffic investigation," go look at the videos from those stops, and discover that that phrase covers all sorts of situations where troopers crossed the line or punished drivers for "contempt of cop." In the past, a law enforcement official fudging facts or using weasel words in affidavits would never be second guessed, not even by a judge or a supervisor, much less a grand jury. I'm sure Encina never thought in a million years he'd be nailed for such a statement. Sure, it's false. But until now, it's been extremely rare for cops to be indicted on perjury charges, even if their accounts strayed much farther from reality than that.

Grits wonders: Will this be a one-off because of all the publicity around the case, similar to former DPS "Outstanding Lawman of the Year" Tom Coleman's perjury conviction in the Tulia cases? Or will this set a precedent so that other cops in the future might be called to account for perjuring themselves in official documents? I think of the way Ken Anderson's disbarment and brief incarceration over the Michael Morton case has left the state bar (barely) more open to disciplining prosecutors for withholding exculpatory evidence. Will other troopers and cops using the same fig leaf to cover up misconduct similarly be held to account?  For the most part, the answer is clearly "no." But perhaps we'll see more such cases if other jurisdictions follow this grand jury's example.


Charlie O said...

I wager a fair amount the trooper never sees the inside of a cell.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Neither did Tom Coleman (7 years probation), but his conviction spurred a great deal of change in drug enforcement practices, resulting in the abolition of Texas' drug task force system and revamping DPS' rules and metrics for evaluating narcotics enforcement.

This makes it harder to defend what happened at the traffic stop and increases pressure on the state to reduce the number of such episodes in the future, so it's important either way. In the best of all possible worlds, prosecutors in other jurisdictions would follow this cue and seek indictments when cops lie in affidavits, which are ex parte court filings with no adversarial mechanism for holding officers accountable for mendacity.

DEWEY said...

He has been fired. I'm betting that is the only punishment he will receive.

Anonymous said...

Encinia wrote that he removed Bland from her car to conduct a safe traffic investigation, but “the grand jury found that statement to be false,” a special prosecutor, Shawn McDonald, said.

I would argue that although his wording was not specific; the troopers actions, commands, directives, etc caused or prompted Bland to be removed/exit of which the trooper initiated or caused to occur. His defense attorney could easily submit open records request on other officers, troopers, deputies and obtain similar such videos and statements on encounters involving arrests (DWI, DWLI, POCS, etc) and the corresponding PC affidavits of arrests finding that such broad statements are used by various law enforcement officers and are accurate, but not necessarily specific.

I'm not defending the escalation that could have been defused by either Bland or especially the trooper. I see the events as both tragic and bad policing, but not criminal on the part of the trooper. The trooper is guilty of bad policing and should be fired or otherwise subject to internal discipline and to the grand jury process. However, I believe the misdemeanor indictment will not result in a conviction mainly due to the above. The grand jury and special prosecutors "gave them (i.e. the family, media, society, etc) something" in the form of justice, but I don't see this indictment as able to secure a conviction as there is way too much reasonable doubt.

Anonymous said...

I meant to add that most first year law students understand that a grand jury can indict a "ham sandwich", but securing a conviction is generally and reasonably exponentially harder.

Anonymous said...

Anon 7:53 AM,
a lot of commentators at various sources are making a big deal about the statement as a "lie" that the grand jury "didn't believe". Without access to any testimony he might have offered in contradiction, I can only speculate but the order of events in his statement are not legally required to be exact or in order. Further, as others have pointed out in local blogs, it doesn't follow that "further the investigation" means he was looking for more evidence regarding the lane change. It could be that he was sick and tired of her arguing with him over the lit cigarette, a safety issue, that he felt he was already too exposed to oncoming traffic given the positioning of her car, that he planned to arrest her for the class C violation as foolishly allowed by law, or that he suspected she was hiding something in the car that he blew off after she kicked him.

Before some of you go fussing about the last part, the Prairie View officer who arrived on the scene and the trooper discussed the kick. I can't find a soul in law enforcement that thinks this case involves "best possible practices" and most indicated areas where each party went wrong but as far as proving the trooper lied, they'd have to have a fixed jury for that short of using something as yet unreleased.

gary said...

Any thoughts on how juries may view police testimony on the future?

Anonymous said...

Gary, some will take the opinion that if something isn't caught on camera, it just didn't happen, no matter what the other evidence is. The state of the art in body cameras is still weak in adverse weather or at night much of the time, those who claimed the cameras were primarily going to be used to hold police accountable and used with great transparency all fading back into the woodwork as we find to the contrary.

JJ said...

It is reasonable to not allow any testimony into a proceeding unless it can be corroborated by audio/video evidence. Hell, most courts won't publicly admit it, but they are already there in most jurisdictions. A peace officer's word alone is tentatively useless in court. I support giving them the tools to capture their citizen encounters. I had it for years and it saved my behind more than once. I, too thought it would be a burn tool by administrators. But after using it a few times I realized just how darn effective it was in gathering more evidence. And wouldn't you know it chapped a few administrator behinds when an adamant citizens swears under oath some derogatory remark or action occurred during that recorded encounter, none of which can be accounted for in the recorded version of the encounter (meaning a false allegation). So use the damn things, even if you're not required to. Your word and oath is no longer a standard sufficient to prosecute people for crimes. Let the third eye "lie" for you. Lol

Anonymous said...

JJ, part of the ongoing narrative here and on similar blogs is the belief that an officer's word is tantamount to being written on stone tablets, judges and juries always giving any benefit of doubt to whatever an officer says, no exceptions. That has not been my experience either and I have supported cameras for decades, believing the money should be found regardless of expense as it often protects both parties in a dispute. I've even known officers that financed their own gear in smaller jurisdictions where no one would've ever questioned anything they said (small town Texas is like that) but as technology evolves to do a better job and increasingly cheaper, it should be a basic requirement for public service. Anyone of rank opposed to cameras or making the footage as available as possible should be demoted or sent on their merry way.