HEMPSTEAD, Texas (AP) - A grand jury decided that neither sheriff's officials nor jailers committed a crime in the treatment of a black woman who died in a Texas county jail last summer, but it has not yet determined whether the state trooper who arrested her should face charges, a prosecutor said.
Prosecutor Darrell Jordan said Monday that the Waller County grand jury will return in January to consider "other issues" and warned there could be indictments. Unresolved issues include possible charges against the trooper who arrested 28-year-old Sandra Bland.
While Texas grand juries typically decide on felony charges, Jordan wouldn't rule out misdemeanor charges related to the case.
"All charges are under consideration," he said, declining to elaborate.
The Chicago-area woman was pulled over July 10 for making an improper lane change. Dashcam video showed the traffic stop quickly became confrontational, with trooper Brian Encinia at one point holding a stun gun and yelling at Bland, "I will light you up!" after she refused to get out of her car.
Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw has said Encinia - who in June completed a yearlong probationary stint as a new trooper and has been on administrative duty since Bland's death - violated internal policies of professionalism and courtesy.
Bland was taken in handcuffs to the county jail in nearby Hempstead, about 50 miles northwest of Houston, and remained there when she couldn't raise about $500 for bail. She was discovered dead three days later, hanging from a cell partition with a plastic garbage bag used as a ligature around her neck.
Her arrest and death came amid heightened national scrutiny of police and their dealings with black suspects, especially those killed by officers or who died in police custody.
Bland's relatives, along with supporters fueled by social media postings, questioned a medical examiner's finding that Bland killed herself.
In the days after Bland died, county authorities released video from the jail to dispel rumors and conspiracy theories that she was dead before she arrived at the jail or was killed while in custody. County officials said they themselves received death threats.
Larry Rogers Jr., a Chicago attorney representing Bland's family, said Tuesday that the legal team will renew its efforts to examine the findings of a Texas Rangers investigation into her death, which has been withheld because it was grand jury evidence.
"We hope we will now receive all the information we've requested without limitation so we can proceed with our own investigation of what happened to Sandy Bland," Rogers said.
Bland's mother, Geneva Reed-Veal, told The Associated Press on Tuesday that she still is not in a position to accept authorities' word that her daughter killed herself because - five months later - she has not been provided with even the initial police report.
"I can't be asked to accept what they want me to accept without seeing anything, as a mom," she said in an interview in Chicago.
She said she was not surprised by the grand jury's decision after seeing how other high-profile police confrontations around the country have played out.
"These pieces of injustice are getting swept under the table," she said.
Waller County District Attorney Elton Mathis, who appointed five special prosecutors to handle the Bland case, has said there is nothing in that investigation "that shows anything happened but she killed herself."
"After presenting all the evidence as it relates to the death of Sandra Bland, the grand jury did not return an indictment," Jordan, one of the five appointed prosecutors, said after the grand jury met Monday for about 11 hours. "The grand jury also considered things that occurred at the jail and did not return an indictment."
Reed-Veal has filed a wrongful death lawsuit in federal court in Houston against the trooper, the Texas Department of Public Safety, Waller County and two jail employees. A judge last week set a January 2017 trial date in that case.
Bland family attorneys contend Waller County jailers should have checked on her more frequently and that the county should have performed mental evaluations once she disclosed she had a history of attempting suicide.
County officials have said Bland was treated well while jailed and produced documents that show she gave jail workers inconsistent information about whether she was suicidal.
Reed-Veal also contends in her lawsuit that Encinia falsified the assault allegation to take Bland into custody.
Melissa Hamilton, visiting criminal law scholar at the University of Houston, said Bland had no legal right to remain in her car after the trooper ordered her out.
"Whether you like it or not, the Supreme Court has made it clear police are in charge at a traffic stop, and they can make anybody get out of the car - driver or passenger - for no reason whatsoever," she said. "The idea for that is to allow police to control a potentially dangerous situation."
Here are some things to know about where the case stands:
GRAND JURY WORK CONTINUES
Although grand jurors decided late Monday that Waller County sheriff's officials and jailers didn't break the law in their treatment of Bland, they are scheduled to return in January to consider whether to indict Trooper Brian Encinia, who arrested the Chicago-area woman on July 10.
Encinia has been on administrative leave since Bland's death. Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw has said Encinia violated internal policies of professionalism and courtesy during the traffic stop, which he made because Bland had made an improper lane change.
It's not clear what charges the grand jury might consider when it reconvenes. Indicting an officer is generally a rare act, but Bowling Green State University professor Philip Stinson, who receives federal funding to track police violence and arrests, told the Des Moines Register last year that there is no government or scholarly database that tracks the outcome of grand jury proceedings involving officers.
"There are other issues that are still remaining that will be addressed in January. There could be indictments," said Darrell Jordan, one of the five special prosecutors handling the Bland case. He declined to discuss which charges the grand jury has already considered and which it may when it reconvenes.
Legal scholars say the U.S. Supreme Court has made clear an officer can order a motorist out of a vehicle, as Encinia did with Bland. But the grand jury likely will review dash-cam video showing how an argument between the two turned physical as Bland was forced to the ground and arrested.
BLAND FAMILY CONTINUES TO QUESTION FINDINGS
Geneva Reed-Veal, Bland's mother, has filed a wrongful death lawsuit in federal court in Houston against Encinia, the Department of Public Safety, Waller County and two jail employees. A judge set a January 2017 trial date in that case.
Cannon Lambert, an attorney for Bland's family, said the grand jury's decision is consistent with what the family believes has been an attempt by authorities to cover up what transpired after Bland's arrest. They also have questioned a medical examiner's determination that Bland committed suicide in her cell by hanging herself with a plastic garbage bag.
"I can't be asked to accept what they want me to accept without seeing anything, as a mom," Reed-Veal told The Associated Press on Tuesday during an interview in Chicago.
Another family attorney, Larry Rogers Jr., said Encinia should have faced charges "within days or weeks" of the incident and that he doesn't understand why the grand jury would need more time to consider whether to indict the trooper. He said the family's lawyers will redouble their efforts to examine a Texas Rangers investigation report about Bland's death, which was withheld because it is grand jury evidence.
Lambert questioned why that report couldn't be released now that the grand jury has decided against charges for the jailers, contending that making it public would not impede any further grand jury review of Encinia's conduct, which was captured on video.
EVIDENCE UNDER REVIEW
In addition to dash-cam video from Encinia's patrol car and those of Prairie View police officers who responded to the traffic stop, investigators have reviewed video showing Bland's arrival and processing at the jail. It also shows jailers interacting with her in the following days.
Bland family attorneys say jailers should have checked on her more frequently and that the county should have performed a mental evaluation once she disclosed she had tried to kill herself before. County officials say Bland was treated well in jail and produced documents showing that she gave jail workers inconsistent information about whether she was suicidal.
DEATH CAUSED A FUROR
Bland's arrest and death came amid heightened national scrutiny of police and their dealings with black suspects, especially those killed by officers or who died in police custody. In the days after Bland died, county authorities released video from the jail to dispel rumors and conspiracy theories that she was dead before she arrived at the jail or was killed while in custody.