The death of Sandra Bland in a Texas cell two years ago was the catalyst for legislation in Texas this year. However, the subsequent Sandra Bland Act disappointed many campaigners because it failed to change the rules over the arrest of Texans for minor offenses.
The death underscored a hearing in Austin earlier this year aimed at changing police powers of arrest in the state, reported the Houston Chronicle.
In August, reform advocates attended a meeting at the Department of Public Safety’s headquarters in Austin.
The meeting took place just over two years after the 28-year-old died after being pulled over for a traffic violation that resulted in her arrest.
Brian Encinia, a state trooper, stopped Bland when she failed to signal a lane change. They became involved in an argument when she would not put out her cigarette. Bland was charged with assaulting a public servant.
The African American woman from Illinois was later found dead in the Waller County Jail. The authorities concluded she took her own life. The death of Bland fueled the Black Lives Matter movement.
We noted how the “Sandra Bland Act” mainly focuses on mental health issues and the operation of county jails. Initial moves to prevent officers jailing people picked up on traffic infractions were thrown out during the passage of the bill.
The Chronicle noted the pressure groups have identified a seldom-used “bureaucratic procedure” that may force DPS to consider amending its rules for officers to make it more difficult for them to lock people up for minor traffic offenses.
They highlight a provision in Texas law permitting the Public Safety Commission to consider a petition from the public that sets rules when it is deemed necessary for carrying out the department’s work.
Kathy Mitchell of the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition told the five-member Public Safety Commission, which oversees the DPS:
“We believe there is a need to clarify the point at which an officer can move to arrest a person at a traffic stop.”
At present officers have a lot of discretion. On occasions, it’s abused.
Just Liberty, another criminal justice reform advocacy organization that attended the hearing, is seeking to petition the Public Safety Commission to change rules for traffic stops that become arrests.
Geneva Reed-Veal, the mother of Sandra Bland who is now a national advocate against alleged police brutality, signed the petition.
At the Medlin Law Firm, we represent people who have been wrongfully arrested in Texas. Please contact us here for a free consultation.