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Many Questions And Possibilities Surround Sandra Bland's Traffic Stop

Updated on August 1, 2015

Initial Interaction

No one will argue that it is unfortunate and tragic that a simple traffic stop ended with someone losing their life. Sandra Bland was pulled over in Prairie View, Texas for supposedly failing to signal a lane change and although she indeed did fail to signal as well as also seeming to run a stop sign earlier in the dash cam video of the incident, was that ultimately the reason she was detained for such a long period of time or was there another reason?

Sandra Bland Arrest Video

The Encounter

When Sandra Bland is initially pulled over by state trooper Brian Encinia their first verbal exchange seems to be cordial and respectful. Encinia can be heard asking Bland for her license and insurance proof to which Bland responds accordingly. But even in their initial conversation Encinia can be heard asking Bland "What's wrong?" when he is at her passenger window getting her identification. He then returns to his patrol car to check her license for outstanding warrants which is standard procedure in a traffic stop. After several minutes he returns to Bland's car with his ticket book at her driver's side window while he finishes writing her citation. As he is doing so he asks Bland "Are you okay?" which in context with him asking her before "What's wrong?" seems to be a continuation of his previous inquiry. She responds "I'm just waiting on you. This is your job." He continues writing and adds "You seem to be upset" to which she replies "I am" and goes on to explain why she is upset. After she finishes he asks her in what seems to be a terse and annoyed tone "Are you done?" to which she replies "Yeah I'm done. You asked me so I told you. So yeah, I'm done now." Encinia continues writing and while doing so asks Bland "Can you put out your cigarette please. If you don't mind" in what many people would consider a less than friendly tone. Bland responds by saying "I'm in my own car. Why do I have to put out my cigarette?" This response seems to incite Encinia because immediately he stops writing, puts down his citation book on the hood of Bland's car and tells her "Okay you can get out of the car now." Bland refuses and begins to argue with Encinia as he continues to order her to get out of her car. During the argument Encinia tells Bland she is under arrest. Eventually Encinia pulls his taser from its holster and threatens Bland saying " I will light you up." Bland then exists the car and walks to the sidewalk with Encinia out of dash cam view where she continues to argue with Encinia as he attempts to put her under arrest although it has never been established what she is being arrested for. After subduing Bland with handcuffs after a scuffle in which she was thrown to the ground Bland is taken into custody and placed in the Waller County Jail where three days later she is found dead in her jail cell from allegedly hanging herself. In the following days her death raises suspicions in the minds of her family, friends and many Americans because it seemed to make little sense given her circumstances. In a call to a local friend in Prairie View (LaVaughn Mosley), Bland expresses bewilderment over how she could end up in jail for failure to signal a lane change. The entire encounter is strange indeed when just looking at the incident but could there be more than meets the eye lying beneath the surface?

Sandra Bland

A Troubled Past

[…] March of 2013 – Bland was stopped in Crestwood Township while driving a 2013 Cadillac DeVille and received two citations – for speeding 21-25 mph above the limit, and for operating an uninsured motor vehicle. She was fined $200, which – according to Cook County Court records – has not been paid.

November of 2013 – A report in a suburban newspaper says that Bland was arrested in Naperville; charged on a warrant, and transported to DuPage County Jail. The news report does not say what the warrant was for.

February of 2014 – Bland was stopped by Lombard Police and charged with operating an uninsured motor vehicle and driving with expired license plates. She was convicted in both charges and fined, but by May of 2014 court records show that she still owed $2,769.00 in fines, and the judge ordered that the Illinois Secretary of State be notified of her failure to pay.

March 3, 2014 – Naperville Police cited Bland for operating an uninsured motor vehicle. Court records show she was ordered to pay a fine, but was cited twice for failure to pay. In June of 2014 the court ordered that the Illinois Secretary of State be notified, and the docket lists a $1,313.00 balance still due.

March 8, 2014 – Approximately five days after her stop in Naperville, Bland was stopped by police in Lombard and charged with two counts of driving under the influence; speeding 15-20 mph over the speed limit; improper lane usage; disobeying a traffic control signal; failing to signal when changing lanes; driving on a suspended license, and operating an uninsured motor vehicle. The court found her guilty of one DUI charge, and all the other charges were dismissed. She received court supervision and was fined, and court records show that she still owes $3,132.00 in this case. (A spokesman with the Illinois Secretary of State’s office says Bland’s driver’s license was automatically suspended for six months – until November of 2014 – as a result of this DUI conviction.)

During that suspension – in May of 2014 – Naperville Police cited Bland for speeding 15-20 mph over the limit. According to the DuPage County court docket, Bland “fail[ed] to comply” in the case in June of 2014 and again in August of 2014, when the court ordered the Illinois Secretary of State to be notified. Records show a $45.00 balance due in this case, though a court spokesman says the actual amount owed is $165.00. The outcome in this case is not clear.

May of 2010 – Bland was charged in two separate court cases in Harris County, Texas, for misdemeanor possession of a small amount of marijuana and driving while intoxicated. Court records show that the DWI charge was dismissed, but Bland pled guilty in September of 2010 to the pot charge.

April of 2009 – Bland was charged in Harris County with misdemeanor possession of drug paraphernalia, but the charge was dismissed.

June of 2005 – Bland was stopped by police in Oakbrook Terrace and charged with two traffic violations: Driving too fast for conditions or failure to reduce speed to avoid an accident, and operating an uninsured motor vehicle. She pled guilty to both charges; was given supervision, and paid a fine.

June of 2004 – Bland was charged by Elmhurst police with one count of retail theft of less than $150. She pled guilty to that charge in August of 2004; paid a fine; and was sentenced to community service and supervision.

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These notifications would have come up when Bland next tried to renew her license, according to the Illinois Secretary of State spokesman, and she would be required to pay all balances due. NBC5 Investigates found five other police encounters involving Sandra Bland ranging from 2010 back to 2004 (read more)

A Change In Temperment

As can be seen from the above insert from the website of NBC station channel 5 in Chicago Sandra Bland had numerous previous encounters with the law ranging from theft to drug possession and driving with a suspended license with several of those encounters happening in Texas. Could these have come up on trooper Encinia's patrol car computer when he ran Sandra Bland's drivers license through the system? If so it could account for his seemingly changed attitude when he returned to Bland's car to return her license to her and issue her a citation. It also could account for him seeming to prolong the stop by making small talk as he was writing the citation. Could he have been searching for signs of drugs or some other violation? If these records did show up on his computer screen it would explain his changed behavior the second time he approached her car. Even if the Illinois incidents didn't show up certainly the ones in Texas did, two of which involved drug possession. Was trooper Encinia trying to buy time to scan for drugs? Twice he inquired about Bland's demeanor. When he first approached the car and after he checked her license. So its documented he was inquisitive about her emotional state before he knew her legal status.

Sandra Bland Exiting Her Car

Cause And Effect

From the beginning of the traffic stop it seems trooper Encinia was suspicious of something he either felt or saw that made him keep asking Sandra Bland what was bothering her. Many people have surmised that he was simply picking with her until she reacted in a way that would give him cause to arrest her. But is that true? Here are some facts that suggest otherwise: 1) he had let the previous woman that he stopped go with a written warning 2) he was about to do the same thing with Sandra Bland although he seemed to be slow to inform her about it 3) he was courteous and professional with Bland until the cigarette incident 4) he was still going to give Bland a written warning in spite of the fact he probably saw previous traffic and other violations come up when he ran her drivers license

Many people have assumed he ordered her out of the car because of her refusal to put out her cigarette which is a reasonable assumption since he did it almost instantaneously after she refused but is that the case? Could there have been another reason? We don't know what Encinia saw in Sandra Bland's car. And to give benefit of the doubt she was acting highly agitated for a simple traffic stop. Given the fact she knew her previous record and now he probably did too this could account for the tension that seemed to build after Encinia returned to Bland's car the second time. Could something have caught Encinia's eye at the same time Bland refused to put her cigarette out? We don't know but stranger coincidences have happened before. Just because two things happen simultaneously does not mean they are related. At any rate it seems strange that a state trooper would order someone from their car for refusing to extinguish a cigarette.

Additionally many people have said that Encinia could not order Bland out of her car but actually in most states an officer can ask you to exit your car during a traffic stop. Most times they don't but they do have the right. Although the sequence of events suggest Encinia was ordering Bland out of the car for not putting out her cigarette could he simply have chosen a bad time to exercise his right to have her get out which happened to coincide with her refusal to extinguish her cigarette? It is a possibility. Maybe. Not likely but a possibility nonetheless.

Sandra Bland And Trooper Brian Encinia

Prejudgment And Consequence

No one knows what was going through the minds of Sandra Bland or Brian Encinia on the afternoon of July 10, 2015 when their paths crossed. Both were armed with information and observation that none of us have and may never have. It is obvious that assumptions were made on both of their parts about the other and those assumptions no doubt led to the ultimate conclusion of their encounter. Both no doubt prejudged the other which developed into actions that caused what we have today. In no way is this article an attempt to blame any one individual because truthfully there is blame to be shared by all involved. What has been attempted here is to shed additional light and introduce additional information that might help explain the actions of the people involved.

Is the Sandra Bland incident a clear case of racism or something else?

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