The U.S. Supreme Court issued an opinion earlier this year that indicates the Texas State Trooper who arrested Sandra Bland was acting unlawfully when he extended the traffic stop because she would not extinguish her cigarette.
After all, trooper Brian Encinia had already obtained all her necessary information and, by his own admission, was preparing to hand her a written warning for having made an improper lane change.
All she needed to do was sign the warning and be on her way, which she was asking to do.
Instead, he ordered her out of her car under threat of electrocution before he violently arrested her, never once providing a lawful reason for the arrest, later falsifying a report that she had kicked him, which we can see in the video, never took place.
And she ended up dead in a Waller County Jail cell three days later under mysterious circumstances.
The Supreme Court ruling, Rodriguez vs. United States, was mainly addressing drug-sniffing dogs, but it can be applied in this case as you can read from the excerpt below of the ruling with the key phrase in bold:
A routine traffic stop is more like a brief stop under Terry v. Ohio, 392 U. S. 1, than an arrest, see, e.g., Arizona v. Johnson, 555 U. S. 323, 330. Its tolerable duration is determined by the seizure’s “mission,” which is to address the traffic violation that warranted the stop, Illinois v. Caballes, 543 U. S. 405, 407 and attend to related safety concerns. Authority for the seizure ends when tasks tied to the traffic infraction are—or reasonably should have been— completed. The Fourth Amendment may tolerate certain unrelated investigations that do not lengthen the roadside detention, Johnson, 555 U. S., at 327–328 (questioning); Caballes, 543 U. S., at 406, 408 (dog sniff), but a traffic stop “become[s] unlawful if it is prolonged be- yond the time reasonably required to complete th[e] mission” of issuing a warning ticket, id., at 407.
Beyond determining whether to issue a traffic ticket, an officer’s mission during a traffic stop typically includes checking the driver’s license, determining whether there are outstanding warrants against the driver, and inspecting the automobile’s registration and proof of insurance. These checks serve the same objective as enforcement of the traffic code: ensuring that vehicles on the road are operated safe- ly and responsibly. See Delaware v. Prouse, 440 U. S. 648, 658–659. Lacking the same close connection to roadway safety as the ordinary inquiries, a dog sniff is not fairly characterized as part of the officer’s traffic mission.
In concluding that the de minimis intrusion here could be offset by the Government’s interest in stopping the flow of illegal drugs, the Eighth Circuit relied on Pennsylvania v. Mimms, 434 U. S. 106. The Court reasoned in Mimms that the government’s “legitimate and weighty” interest in officer safety outweighed the “de minimis” additional intrusion of requiring a driver, lawfully stopped, to exit a vehicle, id., at 110–111. The officer-safety interest recognized in Mimms, however, stemmed from the danger to the officer associated with the traffic stop itself. On-scene investigation into other crimes, in contrast, detours from the officer’s traffic-control mission and therefore gains no support from Mimms.
The 2015 opinion refers to the 1977 Supreme Court decision, Pennsylvania vs. Mimms, that ruled that police do have the right to ask citizens to step out of their cars during traffic stops.
The Mimms ruling is being highly cited by lawyers and journalists throughout the internet today, arguing that Encinia did have the legal right to order Bland out of her car.
But as the Rodriguez ruling states, Pennsylvania vs. Mimms allowed officers to order citizens out of their cars in the name of “officer safety” as they are conducting the traffic stop. Not after they have completed the initial mission of the stop, which in Bland’s case, was to address her improper lane change.
He was about to hand her the warning. All she needed to do was sign. And that’s all she wanted to do.
The traffic stop was over and Encinia extended it when she did not put out her cigarette after he had asked, not ordered, her to turn it off.
And then he not only lied on the arrest report, he tried to chase a witness away who was recording them piling on top of Bland, who can be heard accusing the cops of slamming her to the ground.
The SCOTUS blog wrote an in depth analysis entitled “Traffic stops can’t last too long or go too far, and no extra dog sniffs!” if you’re so inclined to dig into the nooks and crannies of this issue from a Constitutional standpoint.
Some people wonder why Sandra Bland would resist getting out of the car, but it is entirely reasonable for an African-American woman driving alone to fear violence from the police as has been reported throughout the state including police rape in Amarillo, Texas, a handcuffed police rape of a 19 year old woman San Antonio, Texas, recent comments of officers saying they “Can’t Un-Rape You” about cop rape cover up caught on dash camera in Austin, Texas.
As we can see by Encinia’s volatile reaction to Bland questioning why she needed to extinguish her cigarette, she had every reason to fear for her safety.
Texas DPS released a video yesterday confirming the worst fears of those who have been following the tragic story of the 28 year old civil rights activist.
Following PINAC’s report on the obvious technical infirmities of that video, the Texas DPS released a new long format video at the time of this writing less than 30 minutes ago which is featured in the Los Angeles Times entitled new Sandra Bland arrest video.
Waller County Jail officials initially called Bland’s death a suicide, but now it is being treated as a murder investigation.
PINAC reported earlier that Texas State Trooper Officer Brian Encinia unlawfully ordered a nearby witness recording Sandra Bland’s arrest to cease his activities, and it is confirmed that he is part of the Texas DPS, contradicting initial reports suggesting he might have been with Waller County Sheriffs.
Unfortunately, as the video notes, Officer Encinia was capable of conducting a similar stop in curt fashion for a student in a short encounter a few minutes before speeding off and making a U-Turn to catch up to Sandra Bland’s car in rapid fashion initiating her ultimate demise.
It’s unclear why Texas DPS wanted to share that bit of video and nothing else before or after. Furthermore, it’s unusual that they blurred the license plate of a traffic stop which is part of such an important public record document release. The driver had no expectation of privacy on the side of a road during a traffic stop.
It would be interesting to see if that individual steps forward to provide more detail on why he gave a warning to a vehicle speeding and lacking in insurance as opposed to beating up the driver.
What is the point of these written warnings if they’re not public records too?
Or maybe Officer Brian Encinia wasn’t content with writing courtesy tickets when he was really looking for something more like the Texas DPS recruiting video below.
It’s sad that the rookie cop likely lacked proper training in the finer points of the actual law, but was only trained in the administration of improper force under the color of law, and doomed to infamy through his skilled in the instigation of force in the arrest of Sandra Bland.
Carlos Miller contributed to this report