Federal judge orders Sandra Bland documents to be produced

Huston Chronicle – by Cindy George

A federal judge presiding over the Sandra Bland civil lawsuit has given the City of Prairie View, which is not a defendant in the case, seven weeks to turn over records.

A Prairie View police officer transported Bland from the site of a July 10 traffic stop to the Waller County jail, where the 28-year-old was found dead in her cell three days later. An autopsy by the Harris County Institute of Forensic Sciences ruled the death a suicide by hanging.  

A tense confrontation ensued after Bland was pulled over by Texas Department of Public Safety Trooper Brian Encinia in Prairie View and arrested after she refused to extinguish her cigarette. Bland, who is African American, became an emblem of the Black Lives Matter movement and her death intensified international protests over police interaction in the United States with people of color.

Bland’s mother, Geneva Reed-Veal, filed a federal wrongful death lawsuit in August against Encinia, DPS, Waller County and county jail staffers Elsa Magnus and Oscar Prudente.

The plaintiff is seeking any police reports, dash camera video or dispatch recordings in Prairie View’s possession. The lawsuit could be amended to include the city as a defendant.

A half-dozen lawyers assembled in person and by phone for a Tuesday hearing in a Houston federal courtroom where Prairie View’s lawyer Michael Gary told U.S. District Judge David Hittner that the city wanted protection from the plaintiff’s subpoena – at least until the beginning of 2016 – because local officials don’t want to impede the DPS inquiry.

“We simply want to wait and let the Texas Rangers complete their investigation,” Gary said.

On Wednesday, Hittner ordered the city to produce the documents by Jan. 4, 2016. The seven-week grace period grants the requested temporary protection while ensuring that information eventually is handed over.

“We’re going to have full disclosure in this case so we can find out where the truth is,” the judge said at Tuesday’s hearing.

Hittner also used this week’s gathering of lawyers familiar with the case to inquire about the status of the state investigation. Several confirmed an ongoing criminal probe.

A Waller County grand jury that convened for the first time last week will decide whether anyone will face criminal charges in any aspect of the incident.

Last week, lawyers for the county asked Hittner to throw out the lawsuit, asserting in a motion that Bland killed herself because she was not bonded out of jail.

The filing emphasized that relatives and friends in Bland’s suburban Chicago hometown and in Prairie View were contacted by their loved one through numerous free jail telephone calls, but failed to secure her freedom. Bail was set at $5,000. Bland’s release would have cost them $515.


Start the Conversation

Your email address will not be published.