Texas Taxpayers Bear Brunt of Sandra Bland Legal Settlement

The Associated Press
The Associated Press

HOUSTON, Texas — Texas taxpayers will be paying higher insurance rates because of the cost of defending a nuisance lawsuit, a Waller County plaintiff’s lawyer says. Waller County has reportedly settled the lawsuit with Sandra Bland’s mother for $1.9 million. The Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) was not a party to the settlement.

The family’s lawyer, Cannon Lambert, is apparently talking to the press saying the details of the settlement were finalized on Wednesday night.

The Texas Association of Counties risk pool will be responsible for any settlement dollars. The Association is supported by Texas tax dollars and insurance premiums are paid by the association.

Paul Looney, a plaintiff’s lawyer who practices in Waller County told Breitbart Texas, “We have gotten to a state in the law where even defending a nuisance lawsuit costs millions of dollars. This is an outrage. The last thing that gets considered in these things is justice.”

Looney, who practices law in other jurisdictions in Texas, said he believed a jury would have found against Bland’s mother and for DPS and the Texas county. He said the evidence does not support the lawsuit and a medical examiner ruled that Sandra Bland committed suicide with a plastic bag.

As reported by Breitbart Texas, Sandra Bland’s mother, Geneva Reed-Veal from Naperville, Illinois, filed a civil rights lawsuit on behalf of herself and Bland’s estate. Bland committed suicide in a Waller County jail after being arrested by a DPS trooper for a traffic violation and assaulting a police officer. She was found dead in the jail cell three days after she was arrested by the trooper. The lawsuit was filed in a Houston federal court very soon after Bland’s death in July of 2015.

Breitbart Texas reported that Officer Encinia stopped Bland after she ran a stop sign in front of him and then changed lanes without signaling as his vehicle approached hers. He told her the reason for the stop was the improper lane change and said he was about to give her a warning ticket, according to the dashcam video released by the Texas DPS. The situation escalated after Bland refused to put out a cigarette per the officer’s instructions.

The police dashcam video of the traffic stop showed that the officer brandished a Taser and told her, “I’ll light you up.”

The officer, Trooper Brian Encinia, was later fired by the department after a Waller County grand jury indicted him on a misdemeanor count of perjury, as reported by Breitbart Texas. Darrell Jordan, one of five special prosecutors appointed to oversee the investigation into Bland’s death spoke with Breitbart Texas following the announcement of the indictment. Jordan said the grand jury did not believe Encinia’s statement in the probable cause affidavit where he said, “I had Bland exit the vehicle to further conduct a safe traffic investigation.”

Named as defendants in the lawsuit were: Brian Encinia, a trooper for the Texas Department of Public Safety, individually and as an agent and/or employee of DPS; the Texas Department of Public Safety; Elsa Magnus, individually and as an agent and/or employee of the Waller County Sheriff’s Office; Oscar Prudente, individually and as an agent and/or employee of the Waller County Sheriff’s Office; and Waller County. Magnus and Prudente are screening officers at the Waller County jail and are employed by the Waller County Sheriff’s Office.

The federal complaint asserted a federal civil rights claim, assault and battery, wrongful death and survival actions, and vicarious liability for Officer Encinia’s alleged “willful and wanton” conduct, among other claims.

When Bland’s mother and her legal counsel held a press conference in early August 2015, no mention was made about Sandra Bland’s personal responsibility in disobeying an order from a police officer or her alleged assault of the trooper. The family also did not explain why the family did not assist Ms. Bland with posting bond. Sandra Bland was in jail three days prior to her death by suicide. Bland was in Waller County after moving back to Texas where she was to start a new job at her alma mater, Prairie View A&M University.

Larry Simmons, lead counsel for Waller County issued a statement obtained by Breitbart Texas saying, “A potential settlement agreement has been reached, but is not yet final. The parties are still working through a few details.” He added, “The potential settlement must be approved by the Waller County Commissioner’s Court, which has not yet occurred.”

Simmons said that the parties also agreed, in writing, that the potential settlement was to remain confidential until finalized, after which time it would be public record. “The Waller County defendants intend to honor this commitment,” he said.

“The Waller County defendants also emphasize they vigorously deny any fault or wrongdoing, and the potential settlement does not involve any such admissions. Although the settlement amount is confidential until approved, it does not involve the expenditure of any [Waller] County funds, other than a modest $1,000 deductible.” “Once the settlement is final, the County will be issuing a formal press release,” Simmons stated.

Waller County Sheriff Glenn Smith spoke to Breitbart Texas in January of 2016 and expressed great sadness when speaking of Bland’s death in the jail.

“This is the second person that has died in jail since I became sheriff,” Smith said. “I don’t want this to happen again.” “We are working hard to take care of those who are still with us and are making changes to make certain this does not happen again.” The grand jury reported in December that no indictments would be handed down against the sheriff or his staff.

Lana Shadwick is a contributing writer and legal analyst for Breitbart Texas. She has served as a prosecutor and associate judge in Texas. Follow her on Twitter @LanaShadwick2.

Editor’s note: this article has been corrected–it initially listed the Texas DPS as part of the settlement.


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