Texas authorities on Friday denied withholding a cellphone video of Sandra Bland's confrontational traffic stop, responding to a Democratic legislator's heated questions about why the 39-second clip never publicly surfaced until now.
Bland, a 28-year-old black woman from outside Chicago, had used her phone in 2015 to briefly film a white state trooper as he drew a stun gun and yelled "I will light you up!" while ordering her out of the car. She was dead a day later, found hanging in her jail cell outside Houston.
"The Department of Public Safety has not illegally withheld evidence from Sandra Bland's family or her legal team," said Phillip Adkins, general counsel of the agency.
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The video had not been publicly seen until it was aired this month by a Dallas television station, and both lawmakers and Bland's family say they had also never seen the clip. They say the video proves that Trooper Brian Encinia had no reason to fear for his life and questioned whether he should have faced charges beyond perjury.
Democratic presidential contenders in the crowded 2020 field have also reacted to the video with calls for accountability and criminal justice reforms .
Explanations by state officials were challenged, often sharply, by Democratic state Rep. Garnet Coleman, who said he never received the video despite asking for all evidence two years as chairman of the House Committee on County Affairs. He told Adkins he was handed a jumbled "data dump" of four discs and said the description of Bland's cellphone video in the state's investigative report wasn't an honest account.
Bland's mother, Geneva Reed-Veal of Chicago, attended the hearing at the Texas Capitol but did not testify. She told reporters afterward she heard "a lot of discrepancies" at the hearing but declined further comment.
Encinia, the trooper, was fired after being indicted for perjury and said he came to fear for his safety after stopping Bland for failing to signal a lane change. The perjury charge was later dropped in exchange for Encinia agreeing to never work in law enforcement again.
Coleman said Encinia "got off light" and accused state officials of not being ethically forthcoming with their handling of the video. Adkins said they have documents showing that a thumb drive with the cellphone video had been sent by prosecutors in 2015 to Cannon Lambert, the Bland's family attorney. Lambert has said he never saw the video in evidence that was turned over.
"That video shows something very enlightening," Coleman said. "All she had in her hand was a cellphone filming him. So you light people up for filming?"
Steve McCraw, the director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, quickly responded no.