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DPS seeks dismissal of Sandra Bland lawsuit

The expected response by the defendants.

Sandra Bland

The Texas Department of Public Safety and Trooper Brian Encinia filed motions Tuesday to dismiss a wrongful death lawsuit in the death of Sandra Bland, five days after Waller County filed court papers rebutting claims that it was responsible for her death in the county jail.

DPS claimed immunity under the 11th amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which limits the ability of the federal court system to hear lawsuits against states, according to court filings.

Encinia, the DPS trooper who pulled Bland over for not signaling a lane change and then arrested her after an altercation, also claimed immunity under different rules protecting the government from lawsuits. Encinia, who is still on administrative duty, also asserted that the plaintiff, Bland’s mother, needs to point out which specific constitutional rights he violated during Bland’s traffic stop.

[…]

In a Sept. 4 response, the county denied that they had “any actual knowledge of” or were “deliberately indifferent to any alleged serious risk of harm to Sandra Bland.”

The county also states that Bland’s suicide assessments did not indicate she faced a substantial or serious risk of suicide. Instead “Sandra Bland simply stated she had attempted to commit suicide by taking pills on one occasion in 2014, after losing a baby, and she confirmed that she was not suicidal.”

In response to questions about the claim, Larry Simmons, the attorney representing the Waller County defendants, said Wednesday that the “pleadings are going to speak for themselves.”

The county’s response also states Bland was treated with “courtesy and respect” and “was provided benefits and accommodations beyond what the law and County policies required.”

The county’s motion also supports severing the state defendants – DPS and Encinia – from the county defendants and trying both cases separately.

See here for the background. A copy of the DPS motion is at the Chron link above. I don’t know anything about the relevant case law, but a blanket immunity claim strikes me as too broad. I’m not sure why a lawsuit like this would not be allowed to proceed, but we’ll see what the courts have to say.

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2 Comments

  1. Bill Daniels says:

    The thing is, I think the trooper was wrong for extending and escalating the stop over the cigarette. He has some culpability for the eventual arrest because he didn’t allow Bland to sign the ticket, which was in his hand, ready to go, indicating that the stop was over. However, I can’t see how Waller County has any culpability. They already released the video, demonstrating they allowed her to use the phone for free at the guard desk, which they didn’t have to do. Nothing was shown that indicated they tortured Bland or otherwise aided in causing her to commit suicide.

    Waller County should be dismissed from the case, but the DPS ought to face the music, although I can’t see how the DPS should be held responsible for a suicide. Illegal detention? Yes. Causing Bland’s death? No.

  2. Steven Houston says:

    Bill, you have it backwards. While we may agree that the trooper could have handled the matter better, he was legally in the clear to order her out of the car and to later arrest her for the assault. The traffic stop doesn’t end when a ticket is written and he is under no obligation to adhere to his original plan of giving a warning until it is signed. So there was no “illegal detention”, he had probable cause to stop her, the experts point out that he was not singling out blacks, and DPS putting him on desk duty for possible violations of their civility policy was as much for his own good as the public.

    Waller County, on the other hand, was charged with incarcerating her and keeping her safe. There is enough evidence to suggest they knew she had mental problems and that she should have been watched more closely to hold a trial. The outcome of that trial will depend on the facts but the county itself has released enough information to open itself up to a trial.