A Texas police officer who arrested a black woman last summer was dismissed from his job after it emerged that he had given false evidence in court. The woman died three days after her arrest.
Texas State Trooper Brian Encinia had claimed in an affidavit that Sandra Bland had acted in a "combative and uncooperative" manner when he had pulled her over on July 10, 2015, and ordered her to get out of her car.
A grand jury charged Encinia with perjury on Wednesday, after a different account of events emerged. Following that indictment, the Texas Department of Public Safety announced that it would "begin termination proceedings" against the state trooper.
Encinia was on paid desk duty since Bland was found dead in her cell in the summer of 2015. His perjury charge is only considered a misdemeanor in legal terms, which carries a maximum of one year in jail and a $4,000 (3,700-euro) fine.
Bland's account of events
Brian Encinia's original affidavit stated he had "removed her from her vehicle to further conduct a safer traffic investigation," which jurors later found to be a false statement. Video footage emerged showing Encinia drawing his stun gun and threatening Sandra Bland with the words, "I will light you up!" and "I'm going to drag you out!"
Encinia wrote in the affidavit that 28-year-old Bland exited the vehicle and was handcuffed after she had turned combative, allegedly swinging her elbows at the state trooper and kicking him in his right shin. Encinia further said that he then had to use force "to subdue Bland to the ground." Later in the video, Bland is heard screaming that the state trooper might be about to break her wrists.
Bland was later taken to the Waller County jail in Hempstead, about 50 miles (80 kilometers) northwest of Houston. Three days later, she was found hanging from a jail cell partition with a plastic bag around her neck.
No one has been charged in her death. Bland's death in custody was ruled a suicide, which sparked nationwide outrage across the US, fuelling the cause behind the "Black Lives Matter" movement, linking Sandra Bland's death to other black suspects who got killed during confrontations with police. Bland herself was an activist in Black Lives Matter.
Family members file civil lawsuit
The video went viral after Bland's family disputed the coroner's conclusion that she had committed suicide, insisting that Bland was happy about the prospect of starting a new job and had no reason to kill herself just three days after her arrest. Her family always maintained that she should never have been taken to jail for failing to signal when changing lanes in the first place.
Sandra Bland's sister Sharon Cooper told news agency The Associated Press that Encinia's perjury indictment was "bittersweet" for her, as the police officer also awaits proceedings to start in a wrongful death lawsuit filed by Bland's family.
"What happened to Sandy was largely impacted by the fatal encounter that she had with Officer Encinia," Cooper said.
ss/msh (AP, AFP, dpa)