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Voices from the grave call for cases to be reexamined

By Rhodesia Muhammad -Contributing Writer- | Last updated: May 16, 2019 - 11:03:59 AM

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HOUSTON—“She’s literally speaking for herself even beyond her grave,” said Sharon Cooper, Sandra Bland’s sister in an interview with CNN’s Don Lemon after new cell phone footage was released of the controversial arrest outside Houston in 2015.

New video has sparked calls to reopen the case of Sandra Bland.

It’s been four years since Ms. Bland was found hanging in her jail cell three days after her arrest by Trooper Brian Encinia. The confrontational traffic stop with the White state trooper sparked national outrage and protests when the dash cam video showed what looked like an excessive use of force for someone failing to signal a lane change.

Mr. Encinia has maintained his actions were justified as he feared for his safety after stopping Ms. Bland. However, the 39 second video seems to contradict Mr. Encinia’s claim. Mr. Encinia opens Ms. Bland’s car door and demands that she get out while pointing his stun gun inches from her face. He’s threatening to “light her up” as she responds in shock. The video ends when he yells at her to get off the phone.

Brian Collister, chief investigative reporter and CEO of the Investigative Network, is responsible for releasing the cell phone video. All he had to do was request the records once the case was closed, he said.

Mr. Collister told The Final Call the requests led him to the Texas Ranger report, which contained the cell phone video.

The Bland case isn’t the only closed case percolating because new information has come out.

The family of Oscar Grant, the 22-year-old who was fatally shot by officer Johannes Mehserle in Oakland, on New Year’s Day in 2009, is experiencing the same thing.

Cephus “Uncle Bobby” Johnson, Oscar Grant’s uncle and founder of Love Not Bloodshed Campaign recently received a report he said the family wasn’t privy to during the time of the trial.

His nephew would still be alive if the agency had either fired Officer Mehserle or took his weapon based on what was in his personnel file, he maintains.

“He had a total of nine or maybe 10 excessive use of force complaints filed against him before he murdered Oscar Grant. That’s shameful of the agency,” Uncle Bobby pointed out.

Uncle Bobby charged the other officer involved, Anthony Pirone, did whatever he could to cover up for Mr. Mehserle.

“I read that report from cover to cover. In the report, it stated that Tony Pi rone lied consistently throughout his investigative process, throughout the interrogation of him, and in the way he reported what happened. He was looked at as a perpetual liar, which we knew about. We knew that and argued that during the trial,” Uncle Bobby said.

Senate Bill No. 1421, a right to know bill, is what led to receiving the report. State Senator Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley) authored the bill that passed January 1, 2019 to restore Californians right to know whether and how departments investigate and hold accountable officers who use force, plant evidence or sexually assault civilians.

“The sad part,” Uncle Bobby explained, “was before SB1421, the jury nor us as a family could be privy to what was in those officer’s official personal folders in a court hearing. No one was allowed to hear it. The community wasn’t allowed to hear it, the jury wasn’t allowed to hear it, so no one knew how Tony Pirone lied and how he called Oscar a bitch ass nigger and other obscenities.”

“What’s so painful about it is that now the truth is being revealed and it’s somewhat like Sandra Bland’s case with the new video evidence coming out,” Uncle Bobby added. “They know about this stuff before we even have a chance to go to trial or before the district attorney can make a decision on whether we are going to file or not. They know this information and they choose not to file charges against an officer that we know are blatantly wrong. So, we’re going to see a lot of this coming out.”

Mr. Collister said he reached out to Ms. Bland’s attorneys to request an interview with the family for a documentary on racial profiling. But, when he mentioned Ms. Bland’s cell phone video, he realized they knew nothing about it.

Cannon Lambert, attorney for the Bland family, said he didn’t see the video in evidence turned over by investigators and never saw the clip until it was recently shared with him by Mr. Collister.

However, a spokesperson for Texas DPS denies the claim that Ms. Bland’s attorneys never received that information.

Two Democrats from Texas running for president in 2020 called for the Bland case to be reopened—former U.S. Representative Beto O’Rourke and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro.

Beto O’Rourke tweeted, “Immediately re-open the investigation into Sandra Bland’s arrest and death. There must be full accountability and justice.”

Julian Castro tweeted, “The recently released video Sandra Bland took of her own arrest provides the latest example of a police justification for the death of an unarmed black person being revealed as a flat out lie.” He went on to say the video is compelling proof that Trooper Encinia lied, that Ms. Bland posed no threat, and that there was no basis for her arrest. “This case should be re-opened and justice should finally be served,” he asserted.

Presidential candidate Kamala Harris expressed concern about the timing of the latest findings. The California senator tweeted, “Sandra Bland should still be alive today. It’s outrageous that this video is only being released now. There must be accountability. It’s time Sandra Bland’s family got justice. Reopen the investigation into her death now,” she demanded.

“We must #SayHerName. Sandra Bland. She is one reason we must collect and share data about in-custody deaths,” Senator Harris added.

Shante Needham, Sandra Bland’s sister, said so many thoughts went through her mind when she saw the video. “My first thoughts were we never was shown this during the entire court process. I wondered to myself if the grand jury was shown this and chose to ignore it? I wondered if we would be able to open the case back up. But it made me feel absolutely proud that my sister was 28 years old, knew her rights, and wasn’t scared to speak up for what’s right.”

Civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump told The Final Call these incidents suggest conspiracies to deny families of these “dead Black people” due process.

Uncle Bobby said the San Francisco police commission is trying to implement new measures, one called “threat assessment.”

“So, they’re saying now that they would like for officer’s information not to be released if the officer’s life can be put in danger. This is just another ploy for us to not have the transparency we want.”

Uncle Bobby said their next step is to find out if they can bring accessory to murder charges against Mr. Pirone. The family wants to make sure neither man ever have a gun by their side again.