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by Peter Moskos

January 7, 2016

I didn't see this coming

As usual, they don't get you for what you did. They get you for what you write.

While morally suspect, Officer Encinia didn't do anything legally wrong legally when he stopped and arrested Sandra Bland in Texas. But what he wrote seemed a bit different from what he was seen doing on video. And now, as is too often the case in our prosecutorial system, because they want to get him, they can.

Encinia is being charged with misdemeanor perjury. (Which I didn't think was possible; perjury is a felony where I come from. Also, it's unusual, to say the least, to use a grand jury to bring misdemeanor charges.) The New York Times reports:
The trooper wrote that he removed Ms. Bland from her car to more safely conduct a traffic investigation, but “the grand jury found that statement to be false,” a special prosecutor, Shawn McDonald, said.
Here's what I previously wrote about this traffic stop.


Andy D said...

To me this is the one area I have consistently found troubling about so many of these "controversial" police incidents: when the reports do not match the video, EVEN WHEN THE VIDEO DOES NOT INDICATE that the officers did anything really wrong. It is also an area that can be used IMHO to rid ourselves of the problem cops who cause so many of these incidents. Fine, this particular incident perhaps does not constitute a crime. But you lied. I have no leniency for that. Charge 'em with perjury and fire 'em.

Peter Moskos said...

Often department discipline and criminal prosecution are at odds with each other. What happens if the officer is acquitted and then sues for reinstatement and backpay?

Sometimes it's easier to fire a cop without bringing formal criminal charges. And departmental investigations can screw up criminal prosecution, because of forced self-incrimination. It's hard to do both at the same time.

Andy D said...

Usually if the internal investigation is handled as a criminal matter first and an internal matter second you can avoid that problem. i.e. you use the video and the report the officer wrote to sustain the criminal charge first, then suspend them based on that, then if they are acquitted you still proceed against them for lying as an internal matter. If you don't force them to make a statement in the internal investigation ahead of time you avoid the 5th Amendment issues. In Maryland at least you can compell the statement in the internal investigation ahead of criminal charges but you are not allowed to use that statement in court. Their report is an official document so i would assume that there is no 5th Amendment issue with using it to hang them.

Peter Moskos said...

That makes sense.

campbell said...

Quick off topic question. Is the below actually going on? I'm skeptical because it's such a 180 from how we train out here.


One officer noted that the lesson, in some ways, ran counter to their academy training. There, they were told not to talk to people unless they called you, or you needed to move them off a street corner.

Peter Moskos said...

First I've heard of it.

Andy D said...

If that is what they are teaching in the BPD Academy then no wonder things are so F^&ked up. To seriously tell a trainee "not to talk to anyone" unless they are called or "need to clear them off a corner" is insanity. And if true, it means that none of the "initiatives" to get officers out of their cars or into the community will do squat, because they will be acting counter to any concept of "Community Policing" that I've ever heard of.

Pragmatic Liberaltarian said...

I doubt Encina will ever be convicted. But, I'd be lying if I said I'm not happy he was charged.

Peter Moskos said...

I don't know if he will be convicted. I don't know if I'm happy he's charged. I certainly don't approve of what he did. But before a person goes to jail and gets fired (...I know Bland is dead), I'd actually like to know what kind of person he is. Was this typical? Are there other complaints against him? Was he a good cop? It's possible arresting Bland is the only bad thing the guy has ever done. I doubt it but it's entirely possible. If that's the case then we should do the Jesus thing and say "go... and sin no more."

But I don't know. Maybe the guy is the worst bastard in the world. Maybe this is the last straw. We don't know. But remember: he didn't kill Bland. He just arrested her because she did not respect his "authoritah"! Yeah, for no good reason. But we all make mistakes. And *if* that's a one-off and the worst he ever did.... I mean, he sure was professional and nice to the previous person he stopped.

Criminally, I think the lit cigarette will be key to her potential danger and conviction. I suspect that's bullshit, of course. But I can't honestly say I believe that "beyond reasonable doubt." We shall see.