Tag Archives: brian encinia

You Have Not Heard the Last of PVNation

On Sunday, February 21, two Prairie View undergraduate students returned to campus with a shattered windshield after a Waller County deputy reportedly hurled his flashlight at the passing car. It is moments like these that we give thanks that those students returned to campus unscathed and that the vehicular assault by the officer did not result in a crash or injury for the students. According to the the report from KHOU’s Rucks Russell, the students had been driving back to campus after picking up food late Saturday night, when the inexplicable assault occurred.11091234_10100614053918554_4932976215350226824_n-2

As a different weekend began, 32 weeks ago, another member of the PVNation, Sandra Bland, was driving in the opposite direction, leaving campus to get food, when she was assaulted along the road by Brian Encinia, an Officer still on payroll with the Texas Department of Transportation.

It was not the first time an alum had experienced disrespect and would not be the last, as evidenced shortly after when the Honorable Jonathan Miller, Prairie View City Councilman, was assaulted just off Sandra Bland Parkway during homecoming.

As local alumni that were close to Sandra found those first days swallowed up in grief and confusion, the Waller County Jail was withholding the name of Sandra Bland even as Prairie View alumni protested outside of the jail in Hempstead on July 13th and amplified the cry on July 14th. Some have said that if someone had not captured the end of the arrest on their cell phone and released it to the press, then many people would never have known Sandra Bland’s name.

Those people, however, did not know Sandra’s family, nor the power of the PVNation, for before the video came out on Wednesday, one question had already been spreading among the Prairie View alumni: #WhatHappenedToSandraBland

When one of their own had fallen, PVNation spoke up. 

image1-3The first time that I saw that particular combination of words – #WhatHappenedToSandraBland – was at 2:57 pm on Wednesday, July 15. Before the rest of the nation was aware that anything had happened down at the Waller County Jail, Sandra Bland’s friends were already out there on the afternoon of July 13th, demanding answers. My friend Jeremyah, who had been one of Sandra Bland’s classmates, began pelting my phone with text messages and phone calls, insistent that something was wrong and insistent that there needed to be a response. There may have been those who said that there was silence on the hill, but one thing was certain: PVNation was far from silent. By the time that news articles really began to come out, local alumni had already been working hard to chip away at people’s complacency and set the groundwork for what was to come. Like Sandra Bland’s family, they were doing this work even in the mist of their own grief and disbelief.

When one of their own had fallen, PVNation spoke up. In a crucial moment, they played their part. 

Local friends of Sandra like Andre, Alexandra, LaNitra, King Ace and DeAnte spoke up in the alumni community and in the press. The amazing Phyllis Darden-Caldwell worked social media to keep the community abreast of developments. Graduates around the country amplified the call for justice. All four members of the Prairie View Productive Poets who had dominated the Prairie View scene while Sandra Bland was a student, Outspoken Bean, Nyne, Jeremyah “The Fluent One” Payne, and Trademark spoke up through their art form and demanded action from the The Shout community in Houston resulting in what became an 80 day vigil in front of the Waller County Jail.

Sandra’s Sigma Gamma Rho sorors, members of the Marching Storm, and friends came together within the first couple weeks to begin to plan how they could raise awareness about the #SandySpeaks videos that Sandra Bland had been filling their timelines with over the past several months before her death. It was on one of those early phonecalls with LaToya, Teri, Whitney and Aida that I heard a voice that spoke of action rooted in the very real conditions and safety and well-being of the current students themselves. I did not know who it was, but I said, “Whoever just spoke, I need your number.” It was Sandy’s soror and neophyte, LaToya Smith, who would remain focused on fighting for both the memory and legacy of Sandra Bland: the memory in demanding #JusticeForSandraBland, the legacy in fighting for the safety and well-being of the students and helping raise up “The Sandra Bland Social Justice Scholarship.

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It has not been an easy journey since then, and it would be disingenuous of me to say that the women and men who have spoken up most loudly and consistently for Sandra Bland have not faced opposition. Opposition that has sapped the little strength they sometimes had left.

Still, when one of their own had fallen, PVNation spoke up. In a crucial moment, they played their part. Let us not forget that. 

What the alumni of Prairie View A&M will do next is something only they can answer.

What we do know is that this week there were two more students who went through a traumatic experience involving law enforcement as Ryann Harris said of the encounter with the Officer’s flashlight, “Right now I’m afraid to drive a little bit. I’ve been shaky.”

Only last week, Prairie View A&M senior, and Flint native, Mirissa Tucker said at the scene of Sandra’s arrest, “We’re afraid. People are afraid to drive on this street and be harassed. People are afraid if they drive on this street, will they be stopped? Will they be accosted? All of that. All of that goes into play and that affects our minds, how we study, how we get ready for the day. All of that goes into what we do here at Prairie View A&M University, and I just want people to know: we can do something to change that.”

There is one group of people that has the power more than any other group to do something in response to Mirissa’s words: the alumni of Prairie View A&M.

When one of their own had fallen, PVNation spoke up. In a crucial moment, they played their part. Let us not forget that. Neither let us think that we have heard the last of them.

*We are still working for Justice every single day, not only for Sandra Bland, but also for the students she was excited to come and serve. We are remaining vigilant to observe, watch, pray and act for justice in the criminal and civil courts, as well as continuing to demand a Department of Justice investigation, raising funds for “The Sandra Bland Social Justice Scholarship,” and supporting the local students and residents. Please go to SandySpeaksOn.com and get involved. As Sandra said, “I can’t do this alone. I need y’all’s help. I need you.”

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Sandra Bland: Justice Delayed, Not Denied

Sitting in Judge Hitner’s Courtroom in the Bob E. Casey Federal Courthouse in Houston, Texas on February 18th, you would quickly realize that the level of transparency and honesty that each lawyer was willing to offer could be measured by the size of their smile.

For those of you who have read about the past hearings, you already know that the state attorney, Seth Dennis, representing Brian Encinia, has a quirky approach to lawyering in which he pretends he does not know anything while smiling largely at the judge in the traditional bromance courting ritual of white men seeking to remind one another of their common stake in maintaining injustice through the ‘good ol’ boy’ system. For instance, saying he does not know when Brian Encinia’s arraignment in the Criminal Trial is; when everyone else in the room seems to have heard it was first March 23, and then moved to March 22. Thus far, it does not seem to be working. Outwardly, Judge Hitner seems to have no time for the games and arrogance he receives from the state attorney, but only time will tell. Only through concrete rulings that compel action will we know that his refusal to enter into the flirtation is secure.

There were several topics discussed, most notably perhaps was the fact that the civil trial was not dismissed.

The attorneys for Geneva Reed-Veal, Cannon Lambert and Larry Rogers, Jr., all business as usual, were seeking access to the original video footage both from Sandra’s arrest and from the hours that she spent inside of the Waller County Jail. To which the state attorney replied, “It’s all over the internet. It’s on YouTube” as his justification for resisting doing so. In some way, it seemed that both the original footage and the Texas Rangers Report were being tied up by the Criminal Case of perjury against Brian Encinia. The judge said that the attorneys will be given access to view the footage but not remove it from the possession of the state.

Speaking only for myself, it is my impression that the relatively minor charge of perjury is the state’s way of delaying the civil trial, and not in any way a real pursuit of justice in the death of Sandra Bland on the part of the state. If they have charged him with lying in saying he had reason to pull Sandra from her car, then logic would follow that they should charge him with wrongful arrest, official oppression and assault & battery for what followed. Seeing as they have not done that, I am left to conclude that the slap-on-the-wrist charge they have entered against him is only means of delaying the justice that others seek through a civil trial, as well as distracting from calls for a DOJ investigation.

It is to be noted that the Criminal Trial and whether it will be completed in a timely manner is also cause for concern. Currently, Brian Encinia is set to be arraigned in the courtroom of Judge McCaig. This seems to be necessary because Brian Encinia’s attorney, Larkin Eakin, is husband to the County Court at Law Judge June Jackson. As a result, it appears that Encinia’s criminal trial needed to be moved to the District Courtroom of Judge Albert McCaig, who was elected on a tea party ticket that espoused racism and xenophobia, and was also the judge who recently oversaw the mistrial in the officer involved homicide of Yvette Smith in Bastrop County. One must wonder why, if he lives in Katy and is based out of Austin DPS, would Brian Encinia choose a Hempstead attorney who was married to the County Court at Law Judge if not to precipitate this series of events.

The second topic of discussion that I discerned in the Civil Trial status hearing yesterday was the long disputed Rangers Report. The FBI was in possession of a copy of the report that they had brought with them. Yet, in opening it, Judge Hitner discovered that it was excessively redacted, blacking out even the name of the officer at the scene, and told them to diminish the redactions and bring him a better copy on Monday. The FBI agreed to do so.

The third topic of discussion was the state’s desire to sever Brian Encinia from Waller County and cause there to be two separate trials. One trial against Waller County and the other against Brian Encinia. The attorney for Waller County argued that this was necessary with a deeply flawed analogy. He said that keeping the charges against Waller County connected to the charges against Brian Encinia was like holding an officer who had picked up an injured person and driven them to the hospital responsible for their injuries if they slipped and fell at the hospital. Larry Rogers, Jr., pointed out much more calmly than I would have done, that this was one sustained continuum not separate incidences. The reality was that the Waller County’s attorney’s analogy was erroneous because Brian Enicinia did not pick up an injured Sandra Bland in order to help her and give her a ride; he injured her and arrested her in order to justify doing so; creating the circumstances under which she was held unjustly and lost her life.

The third topic of discussion I discerned was the fact that the attorney for Waller County and for the state were demanding the depositions of Sandra’s mother and sisters. It was particularly painful to hear him say that he did not care where the depositions took place, “as long as it is not in Chicago.” In other words, as long as it is not in a place where the women will feel comfortable.

Concurrently, the attorneys for Geneva Reed-Veal were continuing to request the original copy of the Rangers Report that lies in their possession as is appropriate to review before the depositions. The state’s attorney was once again resistant to turning over the Rangers Report; protesting – as he had when saying the videos were already on YouTube – that the FBI was already delivering a copy of the report. It is important, however, to have both copies; especially as it is possible that they do not match.

Leaving, it seemed like a lot was still up in the air as this trial moves forward at a snail’s pace. On we journey in observing a trial between one of the large economies of the world, the state of Texas, and a grieving mother. The odds may be stacked against her, but never underestimate the power of a mother’s love and the determination of the truth to be seen and recognized. Truth is the thing, the Gospel of John says, that will set us free.

Justice delayed is not justice denied.

Pry It Loose: Sandra Bland Civil Trial

“Let me know if I need to pry it loose,” Judge David Hittner said at the December 17th status hearing for the Civil Trial brought by the family of Sandra Bland. “Pry it loose.” It must have been the third time at least that he had used that particular combination of words in his remarks that day.

One could only assume that that particular phrase kept coming to mind because the attorney for the defense kept grinning like a child who has something hidden inside the fist balled up behind their back, while pretending there is nothing there. Yet, you always know by the grin and the smear of chocolate across their chin that there is something there they do not want you to find.

That, ladies and gentlemen, appeared to be exactly the strategy of the attorney for Officer Brian Encinia and the Department of Public Safety today. And like a parent with a sneaky child, it appears the Federal Court is going to have to pry open the hand of the State of Texas before they can find out what is inside.

When grown men engage in this game of grin-grin, wink-wink, nudge-nudge, however, it is also an appeal for solidarity. People of privilege reminding one another that there is some kind of secret pact that makes them responsible to overlook the small indiscretions of certain men for the greater good of protecting mankind.

As his body-language appeals for solidarity seemed to be having no effect on the judge, it was soon evident that things did not seem to be going the way that the attorney for the defense expected. If the reddening of his face and the crossing of his arms was not clear enough, the fact that he stepped, perhaps unconsciously, up to just a couple feet from the judge’s bench made the point. It was fascinating to see that the body language that we use to express our desires does not change greatly from the cradle to the grave.

His disappointment was evident, for he had thought he had an ace up his sleeve, when he pulled out the Younger Doctrine within the first handful of sentences that he spoke. (Although, the very first statements made were by the attorney for the plaintiff, Cannon Lambert, who made clear that at this time the plaintiff, Geneva Reed-Veal disputes the cause of death as suicide until the Rangers’ report is available.) After those words, the attorney for Brian Encinia presented the Younger Doctrine (“instructs federal courts to refrain from hearing constitutional challenges to state action when federal action would be regarded as an improper intrusion on the state’s authority to enforce its laws in its own courts”); saying that if the Grand Jury in the State brought indictments the actions of the Federal Court would interfere with the Younger Doctrine.

Then the attorneys for the defense, attorneys for the plaintiff and the Judge went around in circles for quite a while.

The first circle was about the motion to dismiss. The defense wants the case dismissed. The plaintiff clearly does not. The judge demands answers from the plaintiff that they cannot answer without the evidence from the defense. The defense says they cannot hand over the evidence until the secret proceedings of the DA and Grand Jury in Waller County are finished. The judge asks when will that be? The lawyer for the defense says he has no idea (although it is pretty public knowledge that they are either finished already or about to be finished as they promised a conclusion before Christmas).

The second circle seemed to be about the defense’s argument for qualified immunity for Officer Brian Encinia. The defense sought to protect Officer Encinia from answering to discovery process with qualified immunity. The judge said, “Don’t I have the right to some discovery.” To which the defense replied, “I don’t believe so your honor.” Then there was some mention of Mitchell vs. Forsyth, a 1985 ruling that an official’s position alone does not automatically grant them immunity; but if the act did not clearly violate an established law, then they are granted qualified immunity. The question then becomes, did Officer Encinia violate an established law. Then the attorney for the plaintiff got involved explaining how Officer Encinia’s actions violated the 4th Amendment (Search and seizure) and that since no reasonable officer would take those steps, no qualified immunity applied. It was at that point that the tactics of the defense became truly interesting as he insisted on which specific action was out of line: “taking her from the car? pulling a taser? making her hit her head? Which one? In which way? Which action?”

As entertaining as his performance was, all it seemed to accomplish was to unite the majority of the courtroom in an unspoken understanding that we were watching a child hiding something behind his back while distracting his parents from getting it from him by saying, “Which hand? This hand? Which hand? This hand?” and switching the item back and forth between his hands so as to always present an empty one.

The final circular conversation that the room got to witness came from the defense attorney for Waller County. He claimed that the family was refusing to hand over access to Sandra Bland’s mental health records. The attorney for the plaintiff responded that they had no knowledge of mental health records and that they had handed over the medical health records. The attorney for the County insisted that there must be records because they saw some texts on Sandra’s phone that made it sound like she was seeing a counselor. The defense replied that they had seen the same text and had not made the conclusion. The attorney for the defense continued to imply that the attorney for the plaintiff was withholding the records; while the attorney for the plaintiff insisted they would be glad to give them clearance to obtain the records if the defense had any idea who the mystery counselor they had assumed existed from the texts was. Without a name and address, however, the plaintiff could not give clearance to records that they had no knowledge of their existence.

As the proceedings ended, it was clear that at least for today, whatever the defense for the State and County had behind their back, they were not going to show it any time soon.

Judge David Hittner made it clear, however, that he did plan to pry those fingers loose. So dates were set for the coming year for Summary Judgement, for the Ranger report, for expert witnesses, for the end of motions, for the end of discovery, and for the end of introducing new parties.

When all was said and done, it became clear that with all the games taking place and the grinning and chuckling, that fist was balled up pretty tight and it was going to take some serious effort to pry those fingers loose from the evidence of what happened to Sandra Bland.

In fact, it will take a full year, until January 23, 2017 when a jury will be assembled to examine the contents that have been pried loose.

*p.s. Lots of other things happened: promise to strictly apply new rulings Amendment to limit scope of discovery; discussion of verbal/in house conversation that bags were acceptable in cells, but still no written procedure; observation that the US Attorney had made a motion to quash but had chosen not to come to court; discussion of whether the FBI records subpoena complied with regulations for specificity of request; mention of Federal training liability; the words “fact dependent” were mentioned al lot, along with discovery, Monel, Jury selection, and summary judgement.