A Traffic Stop Leads to Death: The Story of Sandra Bland

When a Texas State Trooper pulled Sandra Bland over, it started as a routine traffic stop. Officer Brian Encinia told her she failed to use a signal when changing lanes, but the interaction became heated. Bland was arrested and sent to jail, but she didn’t have enough money to pay the $500 bond.

Sandra Bland / Sandra Bland / Brian Encinia, Sandra Bland / Brian Encinia.
Source: YouTube

Bland was held in jail, and within 65 hours of her arrest, she was dead. She had just moved from Illinois to Texas for a new job and a fresh start. Bland’s death was ruled a suicide, but it didn’t make sense. The case drew international attention, and many are still searching for answers about what truly happened.

She Was a Bright Student

For most of her life, Sandra Bland lived in Naperville, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. After her parents divorced when she was a child, Bland’s mother, Geneva Reed-Veal, worked numerous jobs to support her five daughters. Bland seized the opportunities her mother provided her by participating in many extracurriculars.

A photo of Sandra.
Sandra Bland. Source: Pinterest

She played basketball and volleyball, ran track, joined the cheerleading team, participated in the marching band, and was elected class president. Bland was also the “bookworm” of her family, and her sisters called her a walking encyclopedia. She was bright, smart, driven, and passionate. Bland had many friends and lit up the room.

She Had Goals

When deciding on colleges, Bland had many options. She considered staying in the area and attending DePaul University like her sister, but another school caught her eye. Prairie View A&M University in Texas was a historically Black university, and it intrigued Bland at the recruiting expo. It also had the program she wanted.

An interior shot of the jail.
Photo by Linda Davidson/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Bland wanted to study agriculture and work as a Food and Drug Administration inspector. But the thing that sold her on Prairie View A&M was the school’s renowned marching band, the Marching Storm. They had an esteemed reputation, and Bland wanted to be part of that legacy.

A Long Way From Home

None of Bland’s sisters had ever gone far from the Chicago area. When Bland talked about going to school in Texas, her mother worried because it was so far away. But Bland had incredible test scores and was a well-rounded student. She received a band scholarship, and it sealed the deal.

A portrait of Sandra at home.
Sandra Bland. Source: Pinterest

Not only was it far, but Reed-Veal had concerns about her attending school in the south. Bland didn’t voice any concerns, but her school orientation involved a lecture on how students should interact with police. Luckily, Bland’s life as a student was filled with new adventures and life experiences.

Her Family Missed Her

During her college years, Bland joined Sigma Gamma Rho sorority, the same one her sister Sharon belonged to. Sharon even flew to Texas for Bland’s initiation. Bland also found a loving boyfriend whom her family liked. She loved living in Texas and even spent her summers there as a camp counselor.

A woman holds a picture of Sandra Bland during a manifestation.
Photo by Michael Macor/San Francisco Chronicle/Getty Images

While Bland made a life for herself in Texas, her family missed her. Bland’s sister, Shante, always felt that Texas wasn’t the right place for Bland. Her family wanted her to be closer in case anything happened. But Bland didn’t want to leave, and no one could change her mind.

Things Didn’t Work Out

When Bland graduated in 2009, she struggled to find a job because the economy was in a recession. She stayed in Prairie View to take graduate classes and worked on campus. She and her boyfriend moved to Houston, but Bland started to miss home.

A photo of Sandra smiling at the camera.
Sandra Bland. Source: Pinterest

By 2012, Bland’s relationship ended, and she decided to move home because her sister Sharon had a child. She lived with different family members who had room for her, but they noticed a change in Bland. She was more outspoken and bolder, but not everyone liked the new Bland.

She Struggled

Bland’s new attitude strained her relationship with Reed-Veal. Among other things, she also couldn’t find a steady job. Her sister hired Bland as a live-in nanny, but it wasn’t a permanent situation. Her family started to worry because Bland was getting in trouble with the law.

A mugshot of Sandra Bland.
Photo by Waller County Sherrif’s Office/Getty Images

Her legal woes started in Texas. When she graduated, she was charged with drug possession. Luckily the charges were dropped, but she got in trouble again. In 2010, Bland was charged with possessing weed and driving while intoxicated. The DWI charge was dismissed when she pled guilty to possession.

She Kept Getting in Trouble

When Bland moved back to Chicago, she racked up thousands in fines from two traffic stops. However, her problems worsened in March 2014 when she was pulled over outside Chicago. Bland was charged with several infractions, including speeding and disobeying a traffic signal.

An aerial view of Chicago’s traffic.
Photo by Raymond Boyd/Getty Images

It was serious because she also received two counts of driving under the influence. The court dismissed all the charges except one DUI count. The DUI was a wake-up call, and Sharon had a stern talk with her sister. She said Bland was too smart to be getting into trouble.

She Didn’t Tell Her Family

Bland started to get her life together but suffered a devastating loss. She had a miscarriage, and her family rallied around her. Bland told them it was upsetting, but she would be okay. She told her sisters that everything happens for a reason, but she wasn’t fine.

A portrait of Sandra’s mother, Geneva Reed-Veal.
Geneva Reed-Veal. Photo by Mark Makela/Getty Images

She kept the true magnitude of her misery a secret from her family. However, they later discovered that the miscarriage was the catalyst for an attempt to take her life. Bland tried to use pills, but she survived. On the outside, Bland didn’t appear depressed.

Who Is Sandra Bland?

It seemed that Bland had lost her way for a few years, but by the end of 2014, she appeared to have rebounded. Her family thought she was back to her old self, and Bland found a new passion. After seeing the movie Selma, she wanted to get involved in social justice.

An image of a memorial to Sandra Bland.
Photo by Go Nakamura/Getty Images

Bland started posting videos about social causes and created a vlog called Sandy Speaks to discuss social topics. It appeared that Bland had figured out what she wanted to be doing and how she could make a difference.

She Opened Up

The new direction helped Bland mend the relationship with her mom. Reed-Veal was proud of her daughter’s passion. Besides social justice and activism, Bland also made videos about her life. She talked about her struggles with depression and posttraumatic stress disorder.

A portrait of Sandra Bland / A still of Reed-Veal during an interview.
Sandra Bland, Geneva Reed-Veal. Source: YouTube

Her family didn’t know if a doctor ever diagnosed her with PTSD or depression, and Bland didn’t seek treatment. But the videos showed that Bland was coming out of her funk. She seemed to be in a good place, and her mother said she saw the bright side of Bland when they took a road trip.

Mending Their Relationship

One of the happiest times Bland and her mom shared was on a road trip they took just ten days before Bland died. After having had a strained relationship for a few years, Bland and Reed-Veal started to mend things while driving to Memphis to visit family.

A picture of Sandra with her mom during the road trip.
Sandra Bland, Geneva Reed-Weal. Source: Facebook

As they drove from Chicago to Memphis, Bland and her mom did something that wasn’t easy: they apologized. The tensions eased, and they talked for hours on the long drive. Reed-Veal had no idea that her daughter would be gone a week later.

She Returned to Texas

After returning from Memphis, Bland quit her job at a food-service equipment supplier because she got a position at her alma mater working in student outreach. She hadn’t told her family that she was returning to Texas, so they wouldn’t try to talk her out of it.

A photo of Sandra at home.
Sandra Bland. Source: Facebook

On July 9, 2015, Bland made the 16-hour drive from Chicago to Prairie View. She was due to start her job in a few days and looked forward to this fresh start. The following day, she stopped by Kyal Webster’s office on campus. Webster had been a mentor to Bland.

He Followed Her

On July 10, Bland excitedly told Webster about her new position on campus. Webster was ecstatic, and they talked for a while before Bland left. She had to go to the store, so she drove across campus around 4:30 p.m. While still on school grounds, Texas state trooper Brian Encinia passed Bland.

A portrait of Brian Encinia.
Brian Encinia. Source: Facebook

Encinia was driving in the opposite direction but made a U-turn to follow Bland. He never explained why he followed her. Encinia was a former ice cream factory supervisor and volunteer firefighter. He had only been a state trooper for a year.

He Wanted to Pull Her Over

Encinia had a history of performing pretextual traffic stops. In less than a year on the job, he issued 1,600 minor tickets, using the pretext of minor infractions to perform random searches in hopes of finding something criminal. On the afternoon of July 10, he did this to Bland.

A video from Sandra’s arrest.
Brian Encinia. Source: YouTube

As Bland exited the school’s campus, Encinia accelerated behind her. He was getting closer and closer to Bland’s car, so she changed lanes to let him go around her. Bland thought he needed to get to an emergency. Instead, the officer pulled her over.

Things Got Heated

When Encinia approached Bland’s car, he said he pulled her over for failing to signal the lane change. Bland handed over her license, and he returned with it a few minutes later. Bland stayed quiet, and Encinia asked if she was okay.

A still of Encinia pulling Sandra over.
Brian Encinia, Sandra Bland. Source: ABC7 Chicago

She told him she was waiting for him to do his job. Encinia said she seemed irritated, and Bland got annoyed because he had been tailing her. She told him she got out of his way, but that didn’t stop him from trying to give her a ticket. Their interaction got heated.

The Situation Was Tense

Encinia was looking for a fight. He told her to put out a cigarette, and she asked why. He then told her to step out of the car. He became increasingly aggressive, and she argued with him, telling him she didn’t have to get out.

A still of Encinia and Sandra walking to the side of the road.
Brian Encinia, Sandra Bland. Source: YouTube

He tried to grab her and slapped her in the process. This was all recorded by his dashcam, and he could be seen pulling out his Taser and pointing it at her. He yelled, “Get out of the car! I will light you up. Get out.”

Following His Training

After pulling Bland out of the car, Encinia pointed his Taser at her back, walking her to the side of the road where she would be out of view of the dashcam. He was trained to do this when arresting someone so that violence wouldn’t be caught on camera.

A still from Encinia and Bland at the moment of her arrest.
Source: NBC News

Encinia can be heard telling her to “stop moving.” Bland was yelling because he was being rough and hurting her wrist. He then ordered her to the ground, and a bystander started recording the incident. Bland was face down on the ground with Encinia’s knee on her back.

Why Was Sandra Bland Arrested?

After slamming her head on the ground, Encinia took her to Waller County Jail. He claimed she kicked him during their struggle and was violent. They put her in solitary confinement, claiming she was a risk to others. They just wanted to isolate her.

An image of Encinia arriving in court.
Brian Encinia. Source: YouTube

Encinia claimed he felt his life was threatened, but there was no evidence that she did anything. All of this happened because she switched lanes without using a blinker. Bland was confused, angry, and frustrated. Her rights were violated, and she couldn’t do anything about it.

She Called for Help

Later that night, Bland called her sisters and mom to tell them what had happened. She needed help getting the money for her bond. Bland also called LaVaughn Mosley, someone who had known her for years and whom she had seen that morning.

A portrait of Sandra Bland.
Sandra Bland. Source: Pinterest

She recounted every detail of the arrest, how she had been shoved to the ground and taken to jail. Bland told Mosley about the bystander video, and he said he would try to find the person. She was determined to get out of prison and sue them.

Her Family Raised the Money

Bland’s bond was set at $5,000, and she needed to pay $500 (ten percent) to get out of jail. On Saturday, she called Mosely, but it went to voicemail. Bland left him a message and called her sister Shante, who vowed to help raise the $500.

An image of a police vehicle on the road.
Source: YouTube

Bland’s family started gathering the money, and Mosely had raised $300. He called the jail on Saturday, found out the bail amount, and was told to contact a bondsman. Her family got the $500 they needed but assumed they would have to wait till Monday to get her out.

No One Could Reach Her

Mosley wanted to call Bland to tell her they raised the money to have her released. He tried to phone her on Sunday but never got through. Mosely said, “We called all day and never got an answer. It kept going to voicemail.”

Sandra’s family speaks to the media.
Photo by Joshua Lott/Getty Images

Mosley and Bland’s family hoped they could pay the bond on Monday, and she would be released. However, when someone at the jail finally answered the phone on Monday, July 13, 2015, they told Mosely, “All I can tell you is, she’s not here any longer.”

What Happened to Sandra Bland?

A few hours after his phone call, Mosely and Bland’s family found out why Bland couldn’t come to the phone. At 9:00 a.m., Bland was found in a “semi-standing position” hanging in her cell. She reportedly used the garbage bag in her cell to take her life.

A portrait of Sandra Bland.
Sandra Bland. Source: Pinterest

Police stated that at 6:30 a.m., Bland refused breakfast. Half an hour later, she said, “I’m fine,” to a jailer making the rounds. Bland then asked to make a phone call and was told she could use the phone in her cell. However, there was no record that Bland made any calls.

It Didn’t Make Sense

Bland’s family was devastated by the news of her death. Everyone who spoke to her was shocked because she was determined to get out of jail and tell her story. Bland had just gotten a new job and told everyone how excited she was.

A surveillance tape of Sandra arriving at the police station.
Sandra Bland. Source: ABC News

Bland also planned to get her master’s in political science because her new job would foot the tuition bill. No one understood why she would take her life. She had plans for the future, and her family immediately had questions surrounding her death.

She Had Drugs

An initial toxicology report released by the Harris County medical examiner stated Bland had a “remarkably high concentration” of THC in her system. Bland had been in jail for three days; unless she had access to weed in prison or was a consistent user, it didn’t add up.

A surveillance tape of Sandra sitting at the police station.
Sandra Bland. Source: YouTube

The Waller County assistant DA claimed Bland might have “ingested a very large amount of marijuana” before her arrest. However, a toxicologist in another county said it was bizarre that the THC levels were so high after three days in jail.

They Released Security Footage

Bland’s mysterious death gained international attention. Conspiracy theories arose that Bland was dead before she even got to the jail. As a result, Waller County Jail released hours of footage showing Bland during her jail stay, including three hours of video outside her cell.

Sandra’s mother speaks on stage.
Photo by Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images

The footage showed the few hours leading up to the discovery of Bland’s body. According to the time stamps, there was no movement in or out of her cell from 7:34 to 9:07 a.m. when a female officer came to check on Bland.

Ruled a Suicide

In the autopsy conducted by Harris County, medical examiners concluded that Bland’s death was a result of suicide. Police stated that bland used a plastic garbage bag to take her life. However, her fingerprints and DNA were not found on the garbage bag.

The sister of Sandra Bland is embraced before Sandra’s funeral.
Shavon Bland. Photo by Jonathan Gibby/Getty Images

Additionally, Bland had multiple abrasions on the right side of her back and slight abrasions on her wrists. The medical examiner concluded that those were the results of the aggressive arrest by Encinia. Bland’s family didn’t believe the report and wanted an independent investigation.

She Should Have Been on Suicide Watch

Following her death, there were at least 12 protests help around the country. Protesters gathered outside the jail where Bland died to hold vigils and demand answers for her death. It gained a lot of attention, with the Texas State Senator calling her death suspicious.

An image of Geneva Reed-Veal at Bland’s funeral.
Geneva Reed-Veal. Photo by Jonathan Gibby/Getty Images

Senator Royce West met with law enforcement officials because Bland disclosed that she had attempted suicide on her intake form. The answer should have prompted jail officials to put Bland on suicide watch, meaning a face-to-face check every 15 mins.

The Investigation Began

The FBI and DPS launched an investigation into Bland’s death on July 15. Encinia was put on administrative duties for violating procedures for traffic stops. The investigation found that the Waller County Jail violated several policies by not doing timely checks on inmates.

A photo of a memorial to Sandra reads Justice to Sandra Bland.
Photo by Go Nakamura/Getty Images

It was also found that the jail failed to provide proof that the staff had completed state-mandated suicide-prevention training. Bland’s intake forms also had varying answers after being filed by different officers. She should not have even had a plastic bag in her cell.

Pursuing Legal Action

In January 2016, a grand jury met to indict Encinia for perjury. He faced up to one year in jail and a $4,000 fine. The charges came from his statement in which he said he removed Bland from her car to “further conduct a safe traffic investigation.”

A mugshot of Brian Encinia.
Brian Encinia. Source: Pinterest

The grand jury found Encinia’s statements false. The DPS decided to fire Encinia and issued an arrest warrant. He turned himself in at the Waller County Jail and was released after posting bail. His attorneys tried to appeal his termination, and Bland’s family wanted more serious charges.

The Charges Were Dismissed

Unfortunately, Encinia could not be charged with battery or false arrest despite his aggressive manner in speaking to and handling Bland. The following year, the perjury charges were dismissed in return for Encinia agreeing to never work in law enforcement again.

A surveillance tape of Sandra sitting, waiting at the police station.
Sandra Bland. Source: ABC News

Bland’s family was disappointed because Bland would have been alive had Encinia not escalated the situation. Law enforcement officials are supposed to de-escalate tense incidents, and Encinia was purposely trying to make Bland upset. He made a U-turn to follow and pull her over for no reason.

Her Family Sued

Bland’s family was unsatisfied with the ruling against Encinia, so they filed a wrongful death lawsuit in January 2017. The family sought damages from DPS, Encinia, Waller County, and two jailers who falsified jail monitoring logs indicating a guard checked on Bland an hour before she was found.

Geneva Reed-Veal addresses the media.
Photo by Mark Makela/Getty Images

Her family also wanted changes to be made in jail procedures. Bland’s mother, Reed-Veal, contended that Bland shouldn’t have been arrested, and she was held in dangerous conditions without proper supervision. They ended up settling for $1.9 million.

The Sandra Bland Act

Two years after her death, Texas created the Sandra Bland Act. The bill mandated corrections and police policy changes in dealing with substance abuse or mental health issues. Bland’s family pushed for lawmakers to require de-escalation training for police and investigations into jail deaths.

An image of Brian Encinia arriving at court.
Source: KSN-TV

The Sandra Bland Act also requires country jails to collect information to determine an inmate’s mental state so they can get treatment. Additionally, electric monitoring was placed in jails to ensure timely security checks for the welfare of those in jail.

Unreleased Footage

In 2019, cellphone footage from Bland’s arrest was released to the public. Investigators and attorneys were the only people who had seen the footage. Bland used her cellphone to record 39-seconds of her arrest, showing her point of view.

Geneva Reed-Veal speaks on stage.
Photo by Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images

The footage caused lawmakers to call for a new investigation because it showed how Bland experienced the terrifying situation. It shows that Bland did nothing to threaten Encinia’s life as he claimed. However, the footage revealed how intimidating Encinia was when he leaned into Bland’s car and pointed his Taser at her.

Calls for New Investigation

While Bland’s family and lawyers wanted to reopen the investigation into Bland’s wrongful arrest, many thought it wouldn’t happen. Shawn McDonald, a Houston lawyer who was part of the prosecution team against Encinia, said he was unsure the government could legally reopen the case.

A young girl wears a tee shirt with a photo of Sandra Bland.
Photo by Joshua Lott/Getty Images

McDonald also said the footage does not represent new evidence because it was known to investigators and disclosed to the family. Most of the questions surrounding Bland’s death have already been put to rest, and her family has made peace with the fact that she took her life.

She Wasn’t the Last One

Since Bland’s death, 810 people have lost their lives in jail. Deaths in jail often go unnoticed, sometimes even unrecorded. Unlike prisons, jails only hold people for short periods and aren’t required to release public information about people who die within their walls.

A mourner grieves at Bland’s funeral.
Photo by Jonathan Gibby/Getty Images

Although new laws were implemented to prevent more deaths in jails, correction officers still cut corners and don’t always monitor inmates properly. They made the mistake of not putting Bland on suicide watch and they didn’t monitor her properly, which could have prevented her death.

A Tribute to Sandra

Prairie View has been associated with Bland’s death since 2015, but the town has taken steps to move forward by honoring Bland’s life. Part of the road where Bland was pulled over has been renamed the Sandra Bland Memorial Parkway.

A photo of a memorial at the site of Bland’s arrest.
Photo by Go Nakamura/Getty Images

In addition to renaming the road, Texas officials are working on Freedom Park, located on Sandra Bland Memorial Parkway. The soon-to-be park will be where people can sit, reflect, and let things go. City officials have acknowledged what went wrong and have tried to move forward.

No One Will Ever Know

While the investigation has been closed for a few years, many questions regarding Bland’s death have gone unanswered. Encinia never stated why he decided to make a U-turn and follow Bland. It is still unknown why he tailed her so she would have to change lanes.

A sign reads Justice for Sandra Bland at street protests in Brooklyn.
Photo by Keith Getter/Getty Images

People will also never know why Bland’s mindset changed in such a short time to make her take her life. She made several phone calls from prison, which were recorded, but correction officers couldn’t say which phone she called from. These questions may never be answered.