There may be a cover up in the Sandra Bland case in Texas. She was a black woman who committed suicide in jail, three days after she was arrested during a traffic stop. Bland was originally pulled over for not using her turn signal, but the stop turned into a shouting match between she and a Texas state trooper. She was eventually put in handcuffs and hauled off to jail. Now, a man claiming to be a Prairie View cop is accusing the trooper of not knowing what charges to file against Bland, and Waller County prosecutors of not letting him testify. A recording of Officer Michael Kelley’s claims was released to the media by activists on Tuesday. Via Houston Chronicle:
“He says Brian Encinia made sure he was not in ear shot of the car. He turned off his own microphone so no one would hear. And then he called his supervisor. He said, ‘I have no idea what I’m going to arrest her for, but we’ll figure it out when we get to the county jail,'” [activist DeWayne] Charleston said…
Kelley says on the recording he tried to share what he’d heard with an official at the district attorney’s office.
“I wanted to testify on Sandra Bland’s behalf and they told me if I said anything they’re going to come after me,” he said in the recording.
Kelley also claimed he made a statement to the Prairie View Police Chief, but it never made it into the official report. If all this is true, then it’s obviously very disturbing. I wrote last year how Bland shouldn’t have been arrested (or pulled over to begin with), and that Trooper Brian Encinia behaved unprofessionally. The claims by Kelley seems to give credence to this belief, making it an issue of overcriminalization (because it makes no sense for there to be a law on turn signals). Don’t forget Encinia was reprimanded for not being professional during the stop, and was later indicted on perjury charges connected with what happened to Bland. A Waller County jailer also admitted to lying about when he checked up on Bland while she was behind bars. It’s possible this is just another example of a county trying to cover up corruption, and certain politicians trying to stay in power. These allegations will do nothing to improve relations between Waller County and the public because of sniping and possible corruption involving former members of the government.
But there are still some caveats to the claims. Kelley isn’t a clean cop at all. He’s under indictment on misdemeanor official oppression for a confrontation with a Prairie View City councilman. That councilman wasn’t indicted, so it’s completely possible Kelley is lying to get back at the city and county. Waller County DA Elton Mathis is standing by the official account, telling Houston Chronicle Kelley isn’t telling the truth.
“I unequivocally state that he never approached me, my first assistant, or any member of my staff with any such information,” Mathis said in a written statement emailed to the Chronicle. “His job was never threatened by me or my staff, and I barely knew who he was before he was indicted.”
He continued, “These matters will ultimately be decided by judges/juries in the state and federal courts, and we anxiously look forward to resolutions and the truth being presented in the courts of law, not the tabloids, and not at the behest of those that seek to profit financially or personally off of Ms. Bland’s death.”…
Mathis said in the written statement that the allegations are “an attempt to divert attention away from the crime committed against Councilman Miller and to cash in on the media attention and sad circumstances surrounding Ms. Bland’s death last year for which we all still mourn.”
The activist who made the cop’s statements public is also far from a saint. DeWayne Charleston is a former Waller County Justice of the Peace who was given five years probation for a bribery scheme involving three other elected officials. Charleston may be working on recovering his reputation, but everything he says should be taken with a grain of salt. It’s possible this starts a new investigation into corruption in Waller County (a county which appears to be filled with it), but it’s also possible all this will do is increase the judgment against the County in the lawsuit filed by Bland’s family.
This still doesn’t justify Bland’s actions during the traffic stop because she wasn’t respectful towards the trooper and lost her cool. But it’s understandable why she got angry because of the bad relationship police have with the community in Bland’s hometown of Chicago. It also shows the ridiculousness of some traffic laws. Bland didn’t put anyone in danger by turning without her signal, and the trooper had no reason to turn around and confront her. Unfortunately, the discussion over this is lost in the possible corruption and cover up in Waller County. Cases like this aren’t always about racism (and there’s still no evidence of this in Bland’s death) but about overcriminalization, and how anyone can be caught up in it. At some point, we’re going to have to discuss why certain laws exist, and whether it’s to protect people or just to soak up money from those who do something which is less than safe.