An overzealous state trooper

Oh my god.

I tell you what, one thing I will cop to is putting off stories I know are going to be unpleasant to explore. I do that. So it’s only just now that I started to watch the video of Sandra Bland’s arrest and jesus christ. I’m only 2.18 minutes in and I’ve stopped because it’s hard to take.

The cop simply loses his fucking temper because Bland has the gall to talk back to him.

He picks a fight from the outset, going up to her car window and after a few seconds saying “You seem a little irritated.” She says she is irritated, since all she did was get out of his way. He tells her to put out her cigarette, and she says she’s in her own car and she doesn’t have to. He tells her to get out, she says no, he flings the door open and keeps escalating his orders to get out of the car, and then he pulls his stun gun and sticks it in her face.

It’s horrifying. It’s a traffic stop and he pulls his god damn stun gun on her because he’s in a snit.

I wouldn’t put anything past them after that.

The Times analyzes the video.

Representatives of Sandra Bland’s family said on Wednesday that a dashboard camera video of her arrest, three days before she died in a Texas jail, showed an overzealous state trooper who had no reason to resort to force or to arrest her.

The video released on Tuesday showed a confrontation between Ms. Bland, 28, and a state trooper, Brian T. Encinia, that quickly escalated from why she had been pulled over, to whether she should extinguish her cigarette, to whether she had to get out of her car, until the trooper drew a stun gun and threatened, “I will light you up.” After she exited the car, out of view of the camera, a scuffle and yelling can be heard, including Ms. Bland saying that the trooper had slammed her to the ground.

I stopped the video after they stepped out of view. I don’t want to watch the rest, but I will.

The family’s lawyer, Cannon Lambert, cast doubt on the conclusion that Ms. Bland’s death was a suicide. Primarily, he and Ms. Cooper pointed to the video as vindication for their claim that a minor traffic stop in Hempstead, Tex., northwest of Houston, should never have landed her in jail.

“Right out of the gate, you see from that dashcam that this could have been easily avoided,” Mr. Lambert said. “There was very little reason that can be gleaned from the dashcam why Sandy had to be asked to put the cigarette out, why Sandy had to be asked to get out of the car, why Sandy had to be subject to having the officer point a Taser at her, why Sandy had to be thrown to the ground and hurt.”

The only reason there was, apparently, was that the cop wanted deference and humility instead of irritation, and he didn’t get it. So he arrested her – for nothing.

It’s as if the cops get to go around testing our obedience whenever they feel like it. They don’t. They don’t get to issue us orders to see if we’ll obey and then arrest us if we don’t. Sandra Bland wasn’t doing anything – just DWB.

The Texas Department of Public Safety said on Friday that Trooper Encinia did not follow a policy requiring troopers, in dealing with the public, to be professional and courteous, and to explain what is going to happen. He has been placed on desk duty.

He should be placed on unemployed duty.

But Sandra Bland is still dead.


  1. Al Dente says

    He should be placed on unemployed duty.

    He should be charged with false arrest and accessory to murder before the fact.

  2. zubanel says

    As soon as it became clear that this was Texas, nothing after that was a surprise, including her death. Texas: the gun-totin’ state we’re counting on when the government goes noticeably too far.

  3. Knight in Sour Armor says

    The question I’m having in all this, is that while her death is extremely suspicious, what was to gain from her murder?

  4. David Evans says

    Knight in Sour Armor, it is clear that some police are not rational actors. What is to be gained by shooting a fleeing suspect in the back?

  5. guest says

    What was to gain? Elimination of a vocal critic of police behaviour, and intimidation of any other such critics. It’s not exactly an unheardof practice.

  6. Rich Roberts says

    I agree with Al Dente (#1). This is just horrific! The officer should be charged.

  7. Blanche Quizno says

    I heard the first part of the recording on the radio yesterday – horrifying. When I heard of her “suicide”, I immediately suspected she’d been murdered. This is happening too often. A similarly minor and trivial incident similarly escalated (but without the tragic and disastrous outcome) in ; the incident is analyzed over at “Police liability for interfering with lawful citizen videorecording” by the Volokh Conspiracy. A couple quick excerpts that apply to the Sandra Bland case (which should result in someones being convicted of murder):

    This is a case where, if the allegations are true, a petty complaint from a neighbor led to a grossly disproportionate response by police, culminating in officers entering a family’s home and arresting its owner for doing nothing more than attempting to videotape the officers’ overreaction on her own property.

    Ms. Bland likewise was attempting to record what was happening; to my knowledge, her phone has disappeared.

    Finally, Plaintiffs’ retaliatory arrest claim focuses on the Plaintiffs’ First Amendment right to “verbally express their disagreement with and challenge the authority” of the Defendant officers…. It is indisputable that “the First Amendment protects a significant amount of verbal criticism and challenge directed at police officers .” In fact, the Supreme Court has gone so far as to say that “[t]he freedom of individuals verbally to oppose or challenge police action without thereby risking arrest is one of the principal characteristics by which we distinguish a free nation from a police state.” …

    For persons of color, they already live in a police state. This must stop.

  8. sambarge says

    So I work with police officers (I feel like I need to disclose that). The thing is, as a police officer, you can’t escalate until you’re willing to, you know, escalate. If you’re going to demand that someone get out of the car, you have to be ready to physically drag them from the car if they refuse. Once you’ve made the demand, you can’t back down.

    So. The point is that good officers don’t make that demand unless it’s necessary. Don’t make demands unless you are prepared to take it to the next level. Why did she have to put out the cigarette? Why did she have to get out of the car? If you don’t have a good reason for demanding these things then don’t demand them. You’re just going to put yourself in a situation where you have to use force unnecessarily.

    There are a lot of cops who are motivated by something other than doing their job or they define doing their job differently than I do. Some of my better police clients talk about those who “serve the public” versus those who “serve the state” but I’m not sure it’s that simple. Racism, sexism, homophobia, classism… All these things impede a person’s ability to judge risk and the need to escalate. Combine that with a power trip that some get from a uniform and gun and you have what we have; someone who thinks a black woman needs to be a little more submissive when a cop demands they do something. I’m not sure that person should be in a uniform and armed.

    Actually, I’m sure they shouldn’t be in a uniform and armed.

  9. sambarge says

    Sorry for the double post but I just re-read my post and I wanted to say that I believe the police officer in this video violently arrested Sandra Bland because she was black and female. I have no doubt about it but I don’t feel like my first comment reflected that. The fact that I take that as a given is fine but I can’t assume others know that I do.

  10. says

    I’m sure they shouldn’t be in a uniform and armed.


    Law and order types like to talk about ‘zero tolerance’. I say what we can no longer afford to tolerate, however, is such abuse of power as this.

  11. Trebuchet says

    Note also that the “unedited” video showed the same cars going by three or four times, sometimes simply vanishing. Then they released a new “unedited” video that was over three minutes shorter.

  12. johnthedrunkard says

    Also worth noting that police in training are repeatedly shown traffic-stop videos that end in the officer being killed or injured. They are trained to be hyper-vigilant, and to demand exaggerated levels of control.

    I’ve seen some of these and they are almost as distressing.

  13. smrnda says

    “If you’re going to demand that someone get out of the car, you have to be ready to physically drag them from the car if they refuse. Once you’ve made the demand, you can’t back down..”

    I’m sorry, but the mentality of ‘can’t back down’ strikes me exactly the type of attitude that should have no place among anyone, let alone law enforcement in a civilized society. The idea that such a perspective can be helpful *as long as the officers only use it when necessary* seems similar to the idea that you can encourage beating kids with sticks provided parents do it correctly. If a goal of police officers is to have total respect and total compliance, and to be known to *take no shit* you get police brutality. You get officers whose egos are tied up in making sure the public is submissive to them. It’s the whole idea of “Don’t You Dare Talk Back to Cops!” Cops have proven that they can’t be trusted, so anything currently being taught or any current policies should probably be shit-canned. If the idea is that it’ll lead to anarchy, well, it’s pretty much the same argument people give in defense of beating kids. And then we have issues where police mistake medical emergencies, the mentally ill and other such people who don’t give them instant compliance as ‘defiance’ and who then start stomping heads.

    What’s the harm with a cop having to do what the rest of us to when dealing with someone who is being difficult and actually negotiating? I think a society where citizens can tell the cops to piss off and where the cops might have to walk away with their tail between their legs might be a bit safer than the society I’m living in right now. Cops seem to decide that asserting their authority is priority number one. That’s created the mess we’re in right now.

  14. rjw1 says

    This is a general impression after watching documentaries on police procedures in the U.S. and Australia and NZ.

    Police in the U.S. seem more authoritarian and less likely to tolerate any dissenting comments from members of the public, they also seem far more likely to handcuff citizens, which is a humiliating practice. Of course, the perception is that American police are far more likely to be murdered by gun-toting members of the public compared with other Western countries.

  15. sambarge says

    I worded that poorly. The mentality isn’t that you can’t back down. It’s that you can’t escalate needlessly. As you mention, you negotiate or talk. You don’t have to be a social worker but you have to be a human being. You don’t demand something of a person that you don’t have a very good reason for demanding. Because officers are armed and empowered to use force on their own judgment, they have to be of the very best judgment. That is not what we have now.

    In short, I agree with everything you’ve said.

    I was discussing the Bland case with a good police officer (one who believes he serves the public) and he recounted a story of a welfare call on a pregnant woman who had been involved in a dispute. They were checking in to make sure she was okay because she had fallen during the disturbance/dispute and left the scene before they arrived. She wasn’t happy to see them and told them to “f*ck off.” His partner wanted to push past her and search her house. Why? Because she was rude and she swore at them. The good officer (and the senior in this case) pointed out that there was no law that said people had to be polite to police officers. She’s pregnant, she’s just had a shitty day and of course she’s going to be rude. But he could see her the next day on the street and she’d be friendly and smiling. He had to physically restrain his partner from tackling a pregnant woman half his size because she wasn’t nice to him. I mean.

    Too few officers have his approach to it though. And, the result is that POC are paying the ultimate price while white folks wonder at what’s going on.

    Perhaps not surprisingly, he’s thinking of leaving policing.

  16. Blondin says

    The cop did a u-turn and covered a lot of ground to catch up with Ms Bland. From her point of view I think she did what most people would do if they saw a cop car charging up behind them. Just that aspect of the story looks suspiciously like a despicable tactic. Anyone who gets out of his way but fails to signal gets pulled over, either because he has a quota to fill, because he’s a loathsome bully who gets a kick out of antagonizing the powerless, or maybe a bit of both.

    I keep reading comments saying she should have just complied; she should have just put out her smoke and she would have been on her way. I don’t think that would have made any difference. Refusing to put out her cigarette was not her “mistake”. Showing her irritation was where she went wrong. Answering his question about why she was irritated is what sealed her fate. Calling “bullshit” on his bullshit was not a sin he could overlook.

    We always tell our children to obey a policeman’s commands and answer his questions truthfully because we assume he has a legitimate reason for asking those questions or issuing those commands. We always advise people to show similar compliance with muggers but for a different reason. If a man waves a knife in your face and asks for your wallet you don’t want to piss him off or he might fuck you up. We should not have to worry about pissing off a cop because he might fuck you up.

  17. says

    I actually had an identical highway patrol stop once, minus the U-turn part. I saw the HP car right behind me in the adjacent lane and it made me nervous and I somehow managed to cut sharply in front of him, without meaning to – so he pulled me over. I was sort of freaked out, but I’m white, so I wasn’t terrified or furious. He told me what I’d done, I babbled about not having meant to (which was true), and that was the end of it. White privilege.

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