Texas Cop Says He Was Threatened For Trying To Tell The Truth About Sandra Bland

by ALAN PYKE –

Sandra Bland protest

Over a year after Sandra Bland died in police custody, an officer involved in the case is giving the world a glimpse into how the “blue wall of silence” works inside the law enforcement industry.

Prairie View, TX, police officer Michael Kelley says that a local prosecutor and police officials suppressed facts about Bland’s initial arrest while investigating Brian Encinia, the man who actually cuffed and booked Bland. Encinia was eventually charged, but only with perjury — a decision that sparked further outrage.

Kelley got to the scene too late to see exactly what happened between Encinia and Bland during the key moments off a dash-cam video where the two are out of frame and Bland says he’s knocked her head against the pavement. But Encinia said he didn’t know what he was arresting Bland for but would come up with something, Kelley says. “She had a large mark on her head. Maybe she fell when she was in handcuffs. Maybe she got kicked,” he told the Huffington Post’s Michael McLaughlin.

Both incriminating details were removed from Kelley’s incident report before it was officially filed, the officer says. And when a grand jury was weighing an indictment against Encinia – who was eventually charged with perjury and fired from the Prairie View force – Kelley wanted to testify to what he’d seen and heard, but says the prosecutor would not let him.

“He told me it wouldn’t be good for my career,” Kelley told McLaughlin, adding that Assistant District Attorney Warren Diepraam also threatened to put him “beneath the jail” if he went public with his story.

Diepraam’s boss, Waller County District Attorney Elton Mathis, denies Kelley’s claims. “I unequivocally state that he never approached me, my first assistant, or any member of my staff with any such information,” Mathis wrote to the Houston Chronicle. The DA also insinuated Kelley is only trying to distract from his own misdemeanor indictment over using a taser on city councilman Jonathan Miller in 2015.

New Wrinkle In Notorious Case

The lengthy dashcam video of Encinia and Bland’s encounter, followed by the comparative dearth of clear information on what happened to her in the three days between her arrest and when she was found dead in a county jail cell, made the incident a national headline.

Bland’s mother Geneva Reed-Veal has become an outspoken advocate for police reform. She and eight other “Mothers of the Movement” – seven of whom lost their children to police violence, one of whom lost her daughter to gang violence in Chicago, and one of whom had her son killed by a white Florida man who had gotten angry with he and his friends for playing music too loud – played a prominent role in Tuesday night’s Democratic National Convention proceedings.

But for all that attention, and video evidence suggesting Bland’s only offense was getting angry with a cop she felt was mistreating her, the exact circumstances of her death remain unknown. And Kelley’s testimony that she had a head wound at the scene might have influenced the grand jury process that ultimately only rung Encinia up on perjury charges.

Kelley’s claims that he tried to expose misconduct in Bland’s case stand out as unusual. Most of the time, the “blue wall of silence” has to get torn down from the outside.

When Chicago cops killed Laquan McDonald in late 2014, the official story was that the knife-wielding teenager had lunged at officers who fired in self-defense. That’s not true, and dashcam video proves it – but everyone from the cops to Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s office to then-prosecutor Anita Alvarez towed the official line until a judge forced the city to release the video. The reporter who had exposed the video’s existence was later barred from a press conference with city leaders about the killing.

South Carolina officer Michael Slager was charged with murdering Walter Scott – but only after cell phone video from a bystander proved that cops had been lying about Scott’s death for days. Corrections officers in upstate New York were caught lying about the circumstances of inmate Leonard Strickland’s death in 2010. There is an established pattern of police backing up a colleague’s lie for as long as possible, then having their cover-up exposed by video or outside investigations.

Hostile World For Police Whistleblowers

Kelley’s claim that the DA’s office tried to intimidate him resonate with other stories of police officers speaking up when they believe their colleagues or bosses broke the law or violated someone’s civil rights. Joe Crystal was a rising star in the Baltimore Police Department until he blew the whistle on fellow cops who had covered up a brutal beating of a handcuffed suspect, and was hounded out of the department. A pair of officers in Chicago who helped federal officials catch a network of corrupt and abusive cops operating in one of the city’s housing projects later said in December that they had been retaliated against by colleagues. Atlantic City Sergeant Mark Benjamin says he got a death threat after reporting officers for abuse of force.

Numerous NYPD officers told local public radio reporters in 2012 that they had been frozen out and labeled as snitches by colleagues after reporting corrupt activity to Internal Affairs. A dozen officers in New York City sued the NYPD last year alleging that they have faced retaliation from supervisors for trying to expose the continued use of quotas in the city despite department officials’ claims to have reformed those rules. Six officers in Whittier, CA, sued for similar reasons there over a year ago.

 

Reprinted with permission from Think Progress, a branch of The Center for American Progress