Judge weighs delaying Sandra Bland wrongful-death lawsuit trial

HOUSTON - The Texas state trooper who pulled over Sandra Bland and now faces a perjury charge in the case remains on the payroll even as a federal judge heard arguments Thursday on whether a wrongful death lawsuit should be delayed until he's tried in criminal court.

See Full Article

Brian Encinia deserves a fair criminal trial on the misdemeanour, said Seth Dennis, an assistant Texas attorney general.

"Let the criminal case play out," Dennis urged the judge.

U.S. District Judge David Hittner told attorneys he wants to move the civil case along, but offered no timetable for a decision on the delay request.

The family of Bland, a 28-year-old black woman, sued after Bland died last summer in a jail following her arrest stemming from a confrontational traffic stop on the outskirts of Houston. Her death was ruled a suicide. The case provoked national outrage and drew the attention of the Black Lives Matter movement, with protesters linking Bland to other black suspects who were killed in confrontations with police or died in police custody.

Lawyers for Bland's mother, Geneva Reed-Veal, said they oppose any delay in the lawsuit trial, now set for January. Her lead attorney, Cannon Lambert, said only "extraordinary circumstances" should merit a trial delay and state lawyers were unable to show him any in this case.

Lambert amended the lawsuit to drop the Texas Department of Public Safety as a defendant. Encinia remains a defendant.

"Mr. Encinia is effectively DPS," Lambert said afterward.

State attorneys have insisted the Department of Public Safety has constitutional immunity from such lawsuits and that Encinia has similar protection.

Encinia, although indicted last month, has not yet been arraigned on the perjury charge. He's accused of lying about his July 10, 2015, confrontation with Bland.

Hours after his indictment, the Department of Public Safety said it would begin the process of firing the trooper. Encinia, who had been on paid desk duty, has been suspended with pay since the agency announced it would move to terminate him.

Department of Public Safety spokesman Tom Vinger said in an email Thursday that there is no timetable on when Encinia will be formally let go, but that decision is now in the hands of Director Steve McCraw.

Encinia's lawyer in the criminal case, Larkin Eakin, said Encinia "remains on the payroll with state employee benefits" and hasn't received formal notice from the agency's director that he's been dismissed. Troopers can appeal firing decisions.

"A letter of termination will trigger the appeals process to the Texas Public Safety Commission, which, as I understand the process, can reverse, uphold or take no action on the director's decision," Eakin said in an email Wednesday. "Once the commission issues its decision, the next step in the appeal process is an action in a Texas district court."

Department of Public Safety records show firings in recent years have taken considerable time, with most formal terminations coming months - or even years - after the incidents that led to the dismissals.

Encinia stopped Bland for making an improper lane change near Prairie View A&M University, her alma mater, where the Chicago-area woman had just interviewed and accepted a job.

Dashcam video from Encinia's patrol car shows the traffic stop quickly became confrontational and Bland was arrested for assault and taken to the Waller County jail. Three days later, she was found hanging from a jail cell partition with a plastic garbage bag around her neck.

Bland's family has said they were working to get about $500 for her bail when they learned of her death.

A grand jury last month tied its perjury indictment of Encinia to his statement in an affidavit where he said Bland was combative and unco-operative after he stopped her and that he removed her from her car to further conduct a safer traffic investigation.

In December, a grand jury declined to indict Waller County sheriff's officials or jailers.

Judge Hittner on Thursday ordered the FBI to give him a redacted report on the Texas Rangers' investigation of the Bland case that attorneys for Bland's mother are demanding. Hittner said he wanted to review the report before making it available to the family's legal team. Prosecutors said they would get it to him Monday.

Hittner also ordered state lawyers to allow the Bland attorneys to view the original traffic stop and jail videos. Lambert said he was concerned about jumps or glitches in the videos and wanted to ensure they hadn't been tampered with. Hittner said the family's attorneys could see the recordings, but not test them.

The judge also was considering a request from a lawyer for Waller County seeking to have two county jailers who are defendants in the lawsuit tried separately. Nearly a dozen other employees in the county, about 50 miles northwest of Houston, have been added as defendants by Lambert.

Bland's case has surfaced in the presidential campaign with her mother, Reed-Veal, making appearances with Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.

-----

Associated Press writer Paul J. Weber in Austin contributed to this report.



Advertisements

Latest Canada & World News

  • Alberta Railway Museum steam locomotive coming out of retirement for Canada 150 [Photos] [Video]

    Canada News Toronto Sun
    The 104-year-old Montreal Locomotive Works 1392 is packed up and ready get back on the tracks for the first time in 62 years. The 1913 locomotive acquired by the Alberta Railway Museum in 1971, which served in the Edmonton-area in the 1950s on work and weed trains, will be back in action as part of the Rails and Tales Canada 150 celebrations. Source
  • Ex-ski coach Bertrand Charest guilty on 37 of 57 charges in sex trial

    Canada News Toronto Sun
    SAINT-JEROME, Que. — Former high-performance ski coach Bertrand Charest was found guilty Thursday of 37 of the 57 charges against him in connection with sexual relations with his students. The 57 counts included sexual assault and breach of trust involving 12 females who were between 12 and 19 at the time of the offences and alleged offences. Source
  • Republicans unveil bill to replace Obamacare, change Medicaid

    World News CBC News
    Senate Republicans released their long-awaited bill Thursday to dismantle much of Barack Obama's health care law, proposing to cut Medicaid for low-income Americans and erase tax boosts that Obama imposed on high-earners and medical companies to finance his expansion of coverage. Source
  • Power still off for 400 properties in Red Deer after Tuesday's windstorm

    Canada News CTV News
    RED DEER, Alta. -- The City of Red Deer says 400 homes and business are still without power after a violent windstorm hit central Alberta earlier this week. In an update on its website, the city says it could be another two days before electricity is restored to everyone. Source
  • Legal clinic challenges Ontario panhandling law as unconstitutional

    Canada News CTV News
    TORONTO -- A Toronto legal clinic has launched a constitutional challenge against an Ontario law that targets panhandling. The Fair Change clinic argues that the Safe Streets Act violates the rights of people who beg for money, including freedom of expression, the right to life, liberty and security of the person and the right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment. Source
  • 6.8-magnitude earthquake measured in Guatemala's Pacific coast

    World News CBC News
    A major earthquake struck off the coast of Guatemala on Thursday, damaging buildings and downing trees as well as causing powerful tremors in neighbouring El Salvador. There were no reports of casualties. The quake, measured at a magnitude of 6.8 by the U.S. Source
  • Woman lights cigarette at end of wild police pursuit

    World News Toronto Sun
    Los Angeles police say a woman led officers on a wild chase in a suspected stolen car that lasted a half-hour and ended when she crashed into a pole. Officials say at one point during the pursuit early Thursday the suspect stopped the sedan suddenly and then backed up and rammed a patrol car. Source
  • Champs Elysees attacker had arsenal of weapons: prosecutor

    World News CBC News
    The man behind this week's attempted attack in Paris's Champs Elysees had been to Turkey several times in 2016 where authorities questioned him over large amounts of gold and jewelry in his possession, and had a huge arsenal of weapons, the Paris prosecutor said. Source
  • N.S. government sends teen suicide expert to Cape Breton to address deaths

    Canada News CTV News
    HALIFAX -- The Nova Scotia government is sending an expert on youth mental health and suicide to Cape Breton in the wake of several teen suicides. It says Dr. Stan Kutcher will go there Monday to talk to "families, schools, and the community" about addressing mental health concerns. Source
  • Holocaust survivor asked to move seats to accommodate Ultra-Orthodox Jew wins Israeli court case against El Al Airlines

    World News Toronto Sun
    JERUSALEM — An advocacy group representing an 83-year-old Holocaust survivor suing Israel’s national airline for discrimination says it’s won the case. The Israel Religious Action Center representing Renee Rabinowitz on Thursday called this week’s ruling “revolutionary.” It said an El Al flight attendant asked Rabinowitz to move from her seat next to an ultra-Orthodox Jewish man on a flight from Newark to Tel Aviv following his request. Source