Charges Dropped Against Trooper Encinia / Special Session Preview: Women’s Health / Equality TX Score Card / Federal Health Care Update

Trooper Brian Encinia perjury charge dropped

On Wednesday a state district judge dropped the perjury charge against the Texas Department of Public Safety trooper who arrested Sandra Bland in 2015 after he stopped her for failing to signal a lane change.

Click here to read more or read the following Washington Post article.

            

Perjury charge dropped against Texas trooper who arrested Sandra Bland

  | June 29, 2017

At the request of prosecutors, a judge on Wednesday dismissed the only criminal charge against the former Texas state trooper who arrested Sandra Bland, a 28-year-old black woman who was found hanging in a Texas jail in 2015. Her death set off national protests.Brian Encinia, the state trooper who was officially fired last year, was cleared of a misdemeanor perjury charge on the condition that he give up his police credentials and pledge to never again work in law enforcement, according to court documents obtained by Texas media outlets and the Associated Press. He also agreed to never attempt to have the charge expunged.Encinia was indicted in January of last year, accused of making a false statement under oath regarding the traffic stop that led to a confrontation and Bland’s arrest.In July 2015, Bland had just moved from Illinois to Prairie View, Tex., for a new job when she was pulled over for failing to signal while changing lanes. The exchange quickly escalated after Encinia instructed Bland to put out her cigarette. When Bland questioned the request, Encinia ordered her to get out of the car.

Video footage showed Encinia trying to physically remove Encinia from the car, threatening her with a Taser and saying “I will light you up!” After Bland reportedly became combative, Encinia held her to the ground and arrested her.

Three days later she was found dead in a county jail. Her death was classified as suicide, a finding that was met with skepticism and outrage by her family and many others. A grand jury later decided not to indict anyone in connection with her death.

In a probable-cause affidavit, Encinia said he instructed Bland to exit the vehicle to conduct a safe traffic stop. A grand jury later found that statement to be false, saying in an indictment that further evidence showed Encinia “removed Sandra Bland from her vehicle because he was angry she would not put out her cigarette.” The perjury charge for the false statement could have led to a year in jail and a fine.

Phoebe Smith, one of the special prosecutors hired by the Waller County District Attorney to handle the case, expressed condolences to Bland’s family but said she decided to drop the charges to ensure a jury wouldn’t acquit Encinia, she told the Houston Chronicle. 

“We dismissed it based on the fact that he permanently surrendered his license,” she said. “The bottom line is, we never wanted him to be a police officer again and we wanted to ensure that outcome. When you take a case in front of jury there’s always that risk.”

The decision to drop the charge was welcomed by the former state trooper’s lawyer, Chip Lewis, who said in a statement that “dismissal was the right thing to do.”

“Brian and his family appreciate the thoughtful review by the prosecutors,” Lewis said. “The Encinias will remain forever grateful to their family, friends and members of the law enforcement community for all their support.”

But it was yet another disappointment for Bland’s family members, who felt entirely caught off guard by the decision, according to their lawyer.

“The special prosecutors did not even reach out to them to let them know that this was in the works,” Cannon Lambert, a Chicago-based attorney for the family, told Texas news station ABC13. The family met with the special prosecutors more than a year and a half ago, he said.

“It’s a shame that they didn’t take the time to contact the family ahead of their decision to do what they said they would not do,” Lambert said. “They assured the family they would see this through. This is the reason why the community has a hard time trusting the system.”

Bland’s death, and the subsequent decision not to file any criminal charges, led to demonstrations across the country. Her name became a rallying cry at Black Lives Matter protests in the midst of a nationwide controversy over police treatment of African Americans.

It also prompted calls for criminal justice reforms in Texas. The state legislature passed the “Sandra Bland Act,” which requires independent investigations of jail deaths, mandates that “county jails divert people with mental health and substance abuse issues toward treatment” and “makes it easier for defendants to receive a personal bond if they have a mental illness or intellectual disability,” the Texas Tribune reported.

The measure will go into effect in September.

A sponsor of the bill, state Rep. Garnet Coleman, a Democrat from Houston, released a statement saying prosecutors’ decision to drop the perjury charge against Encinia was “upsetting.”

“The trooper’s actions were the catalyst for Ms. Bland’s death, and his roughing up of Ms. Bland was unacceptable,” Coleman said. “I’m sorry to Ms. Bland’s family for how poorly Texas has treated their loved one. I hope Ms. Bland’s family is willing to continue to work with me to make sure that the injustices they continue to suffer do not happen to others. At least Mr. Encinia will no longer be able to be a peace officer in Texas, and do to another what he did to Ms. Bland. He nor anyone should be above the law.”

In September 2016, Bland’s family reached a $1.9 million settlement in a wrongful-death lawsuit against Encinia, Waller County and several of its employees. Gevena Reed-Veal, Bland’s mother, said that as part of the agreement, the county jail would make a series of changes, including improving staff training and adding emergency nurses at the jail.

Speaking with the Houston Chronicle Wednesday, Bland’s older sister Shante Needham expressed frustration with the fact that the former trooper’s case would not be going to trial. She recalled a meeting she and her mother had with Encinia’s prosecutors last year.

“In September, we were expecting to be in Texas sitting in the courtroom, but today they cut him a deal,” she said. “Why? Why? Why? Why did you cut him a deal when you sat in our faces and you seen our pain and you told us you were going to take it to court?”


SPECIAL SESSION PREVIEW

Governor Abbott announced that the Texas Legislature will come back next month for a special session to address issues that are important to Lieutenant Governor Patrick, and his far-right base. This special session could have been avoided, but Lt. Governor Patrick refused to act on the sunset bill.

There are many bad policies announced in the special session call including attacks on local control, women’s health, and transgendered individuals. Over the next couple of weeks, the Coleman Chronicle will go more in depth on each one of these topics. Click here to read the Coleman Chronicle’s coverage on revenue caps and local control. Click here to read our coverage on the Maternal Mortality Task Force. 

WOMEN’S HEALTH CARE

Under the guise of “pro-life,” the anti-choice priorities Gov. Abbott has laid out to be addressed during the special session will hurt Texas women and Texas families. Since 2013, the Texas Legislature has already passed some of the most restrictive laws on access to abortion in the country.
Prohibiting the use of taxpayer funding to subsidize health providers that also perform abortion.

State and federal law already prohibit taxpayer dollars from being spent on abortions. Planned Parenthood abortion services are offered separately from their clinics and made up 3 percent of procedures done in 2015, according to the organization’s latest report.

This is just another attempt to undermine access to quality care under the guise of “pro-life” advocacy. Trump has already denied federal money to Planned Parenthood and the GOP is shamelessly following in his footsteps.

Requiring women to get separate insurance policies to cover non-emergency abortions.

Another GOP bill requiring women to pay a separate premium if they want their health plan to cover an elective abortion will be filed again. Insurance is already in jeopardy with republicans in Congress attempting to gut the Affordable Care Act and this is just another attempt to push the anti-choice agenda on Texas women.

Mandating that women get separate insurance to cover an abortion is likely unconstitutional as it places an undue burden on women. It is needless legislation that will ultimately be struck down by the courts at the loss of millions of taxpayer dollars.

Increasing existing reporting requirements when  complications arise during abortions.
This GOP witch hunt would require hospitals, birthing centers, community health centers and freestanding emergency rooms that perform abortions — not just abortion clinics — to submit complication reports to the Department of State Health Services.

There is already a database in place to ensure abortions are safe, but when this bill was filed during the regular session, GOP lawmakers tacked on an amendment creating an online database for abortion complications, requiring doctors to report to the state within 72 hours of a complication, and seeking information as personal as the date of the woman’s last menstrual cycle and her marital status.

Lawmakers must stop playing politics with women’s lives. There’s nothing “pro-life” about restricting access to quality reproductive health care. 


Equality Texas Legislative Report & Score Card
Equality Texas, an organization that fights tirelessly for the rights of the LGBTQ community in Texas, released a report on how lawmakers fared this session. 40 bills were filed this session seeking to end discrimination and create safe communities for LGBTQ Texans, three of which were voted out of committee in a historic first in Texas. I am proud to receive an A+ on my efforts this session to support the LGBTQ community of Texas and to have authored important legislation supported by Equality Texas, detailed below. I will continue to stand up to discriminatory legislation.


Representative Coleman’s Equality Texas score card.
I received an A+ for my efforts in LGBTQ equality and received 20 extra points, totaling my score to 120%. Thank you for all the work you do, Equality Texas .

Health Care Update

On Tuesday, U.S. Senate Republicans delayed a vote on their health care bill. As reported by CNN, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell delayed the vote on the Republican leadership’s health care bill until after the July 4 recess to make changes to the bill, get a new Congressional Budget Office score and have a vote after the holiday.

Like the U.S. House version of the bill, the U.S. Senate version makes deep cuts to Medicaid and removes many of the patient protections created by the Affordable Care Act.

For more information on the delay, click here to read the full CNN article.

Editorial cartoon on Senate Republicans and health care and Medicaid
Jack Ohman/Tribune Content Agency


In honor of last weekend’s Pride celebrations in Houston, the song of the week is “Born This Way” by Lady Gaga.

https://youtu.be/0BsLd4Y060Q

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