Sandra Bland Video Shows An Argument With Police Officer

Jul 22, 2015
Originally published on July 22, 2015 6:23 pm
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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Texas officials have released the dashcam video of the arrest of Sandra Bland. She's the African-American woman who was found dead in a jail cell in Hempstead, Texas, 12 days ago. Jailers say she hanged herself, although her family doubts she would have committed suicide. Her death is still being investigated. Yesterday, the focus was on how Sandra Bland got in jail in the first place, a routine traffic stop gone wrong. NPR's Martin Kaste reports.

MARTIN KASTE, BYLINE: This dashcam video captured more than just one person's arrest. This is a portrait of the tension between police and African-Americans in this country over the past year. In the video, trooper Brian Encinia pulls Sandra Bland over for not signaling a lane change. He's courteous. She's terse. He runs her license, then comes back preparing to give her a written warning. But first, he asks her this.

(SOUNDBITE OF DASHCAM VIDEO)

BRIAN ENCINIA: You OK?

SANDRA BLAND: I'm waiting on you. This is your job. I'm waiting on you. What do you want me to do?

ENCINIA: Well, you seem very irritated.

BLAND: I am.

KASTE: She says she is irritated. She says he was unfair to pull her over because she was just trying to get out of the police car's way.

(SOUNDBITE OF DASHCAM VIDEO)

ENCINIA: Are you done?

BLAND: You asked me what was wrong, and I told you.

ENCINIA: OK.

BLAND: So now I'm done, yeah.

ENCINIA: OK.

KASTE: They're both quiet for a few seconds. It's a moment of decision. The trooper could just hand her the warning and send her on her way. Instead, he says this.

(SOUNDBITE OF DASHCAM VIDEO)

ENCINIA: You mind putting out your cigarette, please, if you don't mind?

KASTE: There's another pause, and another decision is made.

(SOUNDBITE OF DASHCAM VIDEO)

BLAND: I'm in my car. Why do I have to put out my cigarette?

ENCINIA: Well, you can step on out now.

BLAND: I don't have to step out of my car.

ENCINIA: Step out of the car.

KASTE: And from this point, the two of them slide into a shouting match. The law officer insists that she obey him and get out. The black woman demands to know why. Their voices keep rising, and he eventually pulls out his Taser.

(SOUNDBITE OF DASHCAM VIDEO)

ENCINIA: Get out of the car.

BLAND: And then you...

ENCINIA: I will light you up. Get out.

BLAND: Wow.

ENCINIA: Now.

BLAND: Wow.

ENCINIA: Get out of the car.

BLAND: For a failure to signal. You're doing all of this for a...

ENCINIA: Get over there.

KASTE: They go off camera as he moves in to cuff her. But you can still hear them as things get rough.

(SOUNDBITE OF DASHCAM VIDEO)

BLAND: You're a real man now. You just slammed me, knocked my head in the ground. I got epilepsy, you [expletive].

ENCINIA: Good.

BLAND: I'll help us.

ENCINIA: Good.

KASTE: More officers arrive, and eventually, she is on her way to jail. So why did this happen?

TRACEY MEARES: It's a pretty good example of a police officer. He's angry because she said no.

KASTE: Tracey Meares is a professor at Yale Law. She was also on President Obama's police reform task force. She's actually surprised by how well this traffic stop went at first. But the cigarette was the turning point. Meares says it looked like a case of contempt of cop. That's when a police officer tries to reassert authority in the face of disrespect. And she says it's not justified.

MEARES: Given that he is a police officer with the power to take her life that it's incumbent on him to make the first move and maybe tolerate a little bit more disrespect.

KASTE: But we also know that Sandra Bland didn't trust the police. On Facebook in April, she posted a video talking about police racism.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

BLAND: In the news that we seen as of late, you could stand there, surrender to the cops and still be killed.

KASTE: And some people, especially in law enforcement, look at this dashcam video and see someone who'd already made up her mind about the trooper. So who was more at fault there? That's a debate that was already roiling the Internet last night, just as a similar, larger argument has been roiling America since Ferguson. Martin Kaste, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.