Lawyer: $1.9 million settlement in Sandra Bland lawsuit

Cannon Lambert, attorney for the family of Sandra Bland,.
Cannon Lambert, attorney for the family of Sandra Bland, a black Chicago-area woman who died in a Texas jail after a contentious traffic stop last summer, talks about the $1.9 million settlement includes a provision that the jail have a 24-hour nurse or emergency medical technician on duty at his office, Thursday, Sept. 15, 2016, in Chicago. Bland died in her cell at the Waller County Jail three days after she was arrested by a white Texas state trooper for a minor traffic offense in July 2015. Her death was ruled a suicide, and Bland's family later sued the county and the Texas Department of Public Safety. (AP Phoro/Kiichiro Sato)

HOUSTON (AP) — Relatives of Sandra Bland, a black woman who died last summer in a Texas jail after a contentious traffic stop, have reached a $1.9 million settlement in their wrongful-death lawsuit, the family’s attorney told a Houston television station Thursday.

Local officials insisted that the agreement is not final and that it was supposed to remain confidential.

Bland, who was from the Chicago area, died in her cell three days after she was arrested by a white Texas state trooper for a minor traffic offense. Her death was ruled a suicide, and Bland’s family later sued Waller County and the Texas Department of Public Safety.

The $1.9 million settlement includes a requirement that the jail have a nurse or emergency medical technician on duty 24 hours a day, the family’s Chicago-based attorney, Cannon Lambert, told Houston station KTRK.

Bland’s mother, Geneva Reed-Veal, said any legislation that is passed to benefit Waller County must be named in her daughter’s honor.

“It’s awesome,” Reed-Veal told the Chicago Sun-Times. “It’s a victory for mothers across the country.”

Waller County attorney Larry Simmons confirmed Thursday that a potential settlement had been reached but said it was not final. He also said the parties agreed in writing to keep the agreement confidential until it was complete, and the county intended “to honor this commitment.”

Simmons said lawyers on both sides were “still working through a few details” and that any settlement must be approved by county commissioners. The county “vigorously” denies any fault or wrongdoing in Bland’s death, he said, “and the settlement does not involve any such admissions.”

The agreement would cost the county “a modest $1,000 deductible” under its liability insurance, he said.

Jeff Rensberger, a professor at the Houston College of Law, said the settlement showed that both the county and its insurance carrier wanted to “get this behind them.”

“The cost of the settlement is good risk to them as compared to the risk what a jury might do in this case,” he said.

The other provisions attached to the agreement, while unusual, are “not rare or unheard of,” particularly in a wrongful-death lawsuit against a government agency, Rensberger said.

“Part of the motivation for bringing wrongful-death suits in cases like this is for reform purposes as well as compensation,” he said. “So this goes to that reform purpose.”

Bland’s sister did not immediately respond to a phone message seeking comment from The Associated Press.

Bland, 28, was pulled over by a state trooper in Prairie View, northwest of Houston, for changing lanes without signaling. The stop grew confrontational, and the trooper, Brian Encinia, ordered her from the car before forcing her to the ground. She was taken into custody on a charge of assaulting a public servant but could not immediately come up with the $500 bail, according to investigators.

Video from the July 10, 2015, traffic stop shows 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 complaining 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 later fired and charged with a misdemeanor perjury charge stemming from the arrest. He has pleaded not guilty.

In an affidavit, Encinia’s said he removed Bland “from her vehicle to further conduct a safer traffic investigation,” but prosecutors said Waller County grand jurors found that statement to be false.

Bland, who attended Prairie View A&M University just outside Hempstead, was in the process of moving to Texas from the Chicago area to take a job at the school. Three days after her arrest, she was found hanging from a jail cell partition. A medical examiner ruled the death a suicide, and a grand jury declined to charge any sheriff’s officials or jailers.

In their lawsuit, Bland’s family contended 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.

In her lawsuit, Reed-Veal also contended that the trooper who arrested her daughter falsified the assault allegation to take Bland into custody and that jail personnel failed to keep her daughter safe. County officials said Bland was treated well while locked up and produced documents that showed she gave jail workers inconsistent information about whether she was suicidal.

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