AUSTIN, Texas — Texas law enforcement officials Tuesday would not confirm that nearly 4,000 troopers will receive de-escalation training despite an attorney for Sandra Bland’s family saying the state made that deal as part of a $1.9 million wrongful-death settlement.
Word of that agreement last week came more than a year after the combative traffic stop in July 2015 between Bland, a 28-year-old black woman from the Chicago area, and a white trooper who pulled her over for not signaling a lane change. Bland died three days later in a jail outside Houston.
But a spokesman for the Texas Department of Public Safety said there is no settlement involving Bland and gave no indication one was imminent. Instead, DPS Director Steve McCraw on Tuesday defended what he described as 76 hours of existing training designed to help recruits de-escalate volatile situations.
Tom Rhodes, a San Antonio-based attorney for the Bland family, said DPS agreed to de-escalation training during settlement talks. He added, however, that the purported settlement did not spell out how comprehensive that training must be.
“They admitted they didn’t have that systematic training, certainly not on a statewide basis,” Rhodes said of the settlement talks. He said the deal was expected to become finalized in the coming days.
Bland’s family had sued Waller County, where Bland was jailed, and Texas DPS. Waller County officials last week acknowledged that a potential settlement had been reached but said the agreement would remain confidential until finalized.
DPS said in a statement that in addition to training that has already been required for new recruits, the agency this year also mandated that troopers complete an 8-hour de-escalation course provided by the Texas Police Association.
“We’ve done cultural training, we’ve done escalation training throughout the department,” McCraw said. “In 1977, my partner was teaching about de-escalation and techniques. But formalizing it, institutionalizing it is important.”
Video from the July 10, 2015, traffic stop shows Trooper Brian Encinia drawing his stun gun and telling Bland, “I will light you up!” She can later be heard screaming off-camera that the trooper was about to break her wrists and saying that he knocked her head into the ground. The video provoked national outrage and drew the attention of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Encinia was ultimately fired and has been charged with misdemeanor perjury stemming from his arrest of Bland. He has pleaded not guilty.
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