Tuesday, a Texas law enforcement officer accused officials of covering up the events that led to the death of Sandra Bland last July after her arrest.
In an interview with Huffington Post reporter, Michael McLaughlin, Prairie View police officer, Michael Kelley said that some portions of his initial incident report regarding Bland’s arrest were removed. The portions removed were those that gave an unflattering view of the police officer who arrested Bland. Kelly also stated that he was threatened for speaking out about what he witnessed during the July 10, 2015 incident.
Bland died in a Waller County, Texas jail last year, three days after being arrested for allegedly assaulting trooper Brian Encinia. The department said that Bland had apparently committed suicide, a possibility that her family denies. The case made headlines across the country, and many critics and activists questioned why Bland had been arrested in the first place.
Kelley told the Huffington Post that when he arrived at the scene, Bland was already in the back seat of the squad car and handcuffed. The incident, Kelley said, began as a routine traffic stop and that the arresting officer, Encinia, had turned off his body camera. Kelley stated that when he arrived, he overheard that Encinia admitting that he wasn’t sure what charge to file against Bland.
Kelley states that that Encinia’s admission was removed from the official incident report:
‘My opinion is that he messed up. He did not have probable cause to detain her after he pulled her out of the car.’
Kelley also stated that it appeared to him that the 28-year-old Bland had been struck in the head, another portion of his incident report that seems to have been removed from the official record.
‘She had a large mark on her head. Maybe she fell when she was in handcuffs. Maybe she got kicked.’
Kelley told Huffington Post that Bland had complained about pain from the head injury but wouldn’t cooperate with the EMTs.
Kelley said that law enforcement officials edited his two-page draft report down to less than a page, then included it into the official records without his approval. Kelley also said that he was threatened when he requested a change to testify before the grand jury that investigated Bland’s arrest. Kelly stated that Assistant District Attorney Warren Diepraam threatened him and his career.
‘He told me it wouldn’t be good for my career. Then I told him I was going to talk to Sandra Bland’s mother’s attorney, and he told me I was going to be beneath the jail.’
Denials from Encinia’s lawyer, Chip Lewis, were issued quickly. Lewis questioned why Kelley had waited so long to to speak to the press. He also argued that another Prairie View officer didn’t report Encinia wondering how to charge Bland. Lewis stated:
‘I don’t think it’s worth the paper it’s written on. They’re completely contradicted by other eyewitnesses.’
Kelley himself is a figure of some controversy. The 33-year-old officer was indicted for “official oppression” in the misuse of a stun gun on a Black Prairie View council member.
Elton Mathis, Waller County District Attorney, says that Kelley’s charges of a cover up are “fictional.” Mathis released a statement Tuesday, reading:
‘He never approached me, my first assistant, or any member of my staff with any such information. His job was never threatened by me or my staff, and I barely knew who he was before he was indicted.
‘I can only imagine that this is an attempt to divert attention away from the crime committed against Councilman Miller and to cash in on the media attention and sad circumstances surrounding Ms. Bland’s death last year…’
Kelley, in turn, says the indictment is a payback for his speaking out about Sandra Bland.
Kelley’s accusations against the department officials were made public to the press on Tuesday by activist Dwayne Charleston, who talked to Kelley about Bland’s arrest. Charleston recorded the telephone conversation and played it at a press conference on Tuesday. The recording revealed that Kelley told Charleston that he had wanted to testify on Bland’s behalf, but had been threatened.
Encinia has been fired from the Prairie View police department and faces criminal perjury charges for falsifying what happened during the arrest.