A grand jury in Texas indicted the state trooper who arrested Sandra Bland, the 28-year-old black woman who later died in a county jail last summer.
Trooper Brian Encinia, who arrested Bland during a traffic stop, was indicted Wednesday on a perjury charge, special prosecutors said.
The Texas Department of Public Safety said Wednesday night that it intends to fire the trooper as a result. Encinia was placed on administrative duty last summer.
Darrell Jordan, a defense attorney from Houston who was one of the special prosecutors, said the perjury charge was related to Encinia’s probable cause statement about the stop.
“He said he pulled Sandra Bland from the car in order to further his traffic stop investigation,” Jordan said in a telephone interview Wednesday. “The grand jury did not believe that statement to be true and returned a true bill.”
This decision came a little more than two weeks after the grand jury opted not to indict anyone in Bland’s death, which prompted national protests after she was found dead in a jail cell. The decision not to indict anyone in her death was criticized by relatives of Bland and an attorney for her family.
“We just asked the public to give us a chance to do our job,” Lewis White, another of the case’s five special prosecutors, said in a separate telephone interview Wednesday.
The grand jurors met for several hours Wednesday before making a decision. Special prosecutors had presented the evidence and left the choice to the jurors, White said.
The perjury charge is a class-A misdemeanor that carries with it possible penalties of one year in jail and a $4,000 fine. White said it was the only charge that the grand jury would hand down.
Bland’s death was one of several incidents last year that sparked demonstrations and anger over the way police officers treat black Americans. And it came at a time of heightened scrutiny nationwide about how officers use force, particularly lethal force, in interactions with black men and boys.
Authorities said Bland’s death was a suicide that occurred three days after she was pulled over for failing to signal a lane change and then jailed on assault charges.
Footage of the traffic stop, released by authorities after her death, showed Encinia ordering Bland out of the car when she questioned his request that she put out her cigarette. She refused, and the video shows him opening the door, trying to pull her out of the car and threatening her with a Taser.
U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch said after Bland’s death that it shined a light on fears many black Americans have about interactions with police.
“It highlights the concern of many in the black community that a routine stop for many members of the black community is not handled with the same professionalism and courtesy that other people may get from the police,” Lynch, the first African American woman to serve as attorney general, told ABC News.
Jordan said that Encinia will now “go through the same process, similar to what Sandra Bland went through.” A warrant will be issued for his arrest and he will have to turn himself in, Jordan said.
“There will be some that will be upset he was charged, and some will be upset he was only charged with a misdemeanor,” Jordan said. “I don’t think anybody is going to be completely happy with what happened. But it’s the American justice system.”
The Texas Department of Public Safety said in a statement after Bland’s death that a preliminary review of the traffic stop “identified violations of the department’s procedures regarding traffic stops and the department’s courtesy policy.” An investigation was carried out by the Texas Rangers and the results were given to the Waller County special prosecutors and the grand jury.
On Wednesday night, the Department of Public Safety said it is going to “begin termination proceedings to discharge” Encinia.
The Texas attorney general’s office, which is representing the department and Encinia in a wrongful death lawsuit filed in Bland’s death, could not be immediately reached for a comment Wednesday.
This post has been updated. First published at 5:31 p.m.