'I'll Light You Up': Newly Released Sandra Bland Video Spurs Calls to Reopen Case
By Nelson Oliveira
Nearly four years after Sandra Bland was found dead in a Texas jail cell, a newly uncovered cellphone video offers a new perspective into the controversial arrest and has led her family to call for a new investigation.
The footage shows former state Trooper Brian Encinia knew she was holding a cell phone -- not a weapon -- and she was recording him during part of the confrontation, in which he threatened her with a Taser and yelled, "I'll light you up."
For years, the only footage that was believed to exist was from a cruiser's dash cam. The 39-second cell phone video was obtained by ABC-affiliate WFAA and the Investigative Network, though state officials said the video was available all these years upon request.
When journalists from the investigative team showed the video to Bland's family, they said they were not aware it even existed. Bland's sister Shante Needham said authorities should reopen the investigation.
"Open up the case, period," she told Brian Collister of the Investigative Network.
Needham said the footage is more evidence that Encinia lied about the circumstances surrounding the arrest. The officer was charged with perjury after an investigation showed he falsely claimed in the police report that Bland had assaulted him. The charge was later dropped as part of a deal in which he agreed to give up his law enforcement license.
Bland, a 28-year-old black woman from the Chicago area, was on her way to a grocery store on July 10, 2015 when she was pulled over for failing to signal for a lane change. She was found hanged three days later at a jail near Houston. Her death was ruled a suicide, though her family insists she would never have killed herself.
The dash cam video sparked nationwide outrage as it showed Encinia threatening to drag Bland out of her car because she refused to put out her cigarette. Encinia would later write in the police report that he feared for his life.
That same dash cam video shows Bland holding a cell phone, but the footage was never made public. The Texas Department of Public Safety said the cell phone was "specifically identified multiple times" throughout the final investigation report and that the video has since been treated as "public information."
"The cellphone video that is the subject of a recent news story is not newly discovered evidence," the department said Tuesday in an email to The Daily News.
The agency also said that Collister, the lead journalist behind the new report, filed a Freedom of Information request in August 2017 specifically requesting the video, which was provided to him "at that time." The footage was also available to all parties involved in a civil lawsuit that followed Bland's death.
In 2016, Bland's family settled the lawsuit against the jail and the Texas Department of Public Safety for nearly $2 million.
The attorney who represented the family in that lawsuit, Cannon Lambert, was shocked when he recently watched the cell phone video for the first time.
"I've never seen that," he told Collister, in disbelief. "How is this possible?"
"That video shows he's not in fear of his safety and she's not reaching for anything," the attorney said. "It's already in her hand and she's recording him... What did she do to put him in jeopardy? What did she do to make him feel like his safety was in jeopardy?"
Bland's sister said the new video is "crucial" to the case and should lead to Encinia's arrest.
(c)2019 New York Daily News