AUSTIN, Texas — Geneva Reed-Veal, Sandra Bland's mother, sat quietly in a committee hearing room in the lower level of the Texas Capitol extension Friday morning.
She told reporters she was "grateful" to be there to listen, for herself, to the testimony from the state's top law enforcement leaders about her daughter's case.
State Representative Garnet Coleman (D-Houston), Chair of the House Committee on County Affairs, called on Steven McCraw and Phillip Adkins – the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) director and chief counsel, respectively – to testify about the video Sandra Bland recorded of her confrontation with then-State Trooper Brian Encinia.
A video most people hadn't seen and didn't know existed until two weeks ago.
"There's nothing I can do in law to ever," Rep. Coleman began, then paused. "To ever make her feel that justice was ever, would ever, be done."
Bland recorded the July 2015 traffic stop that landed her in the Waller County Jail, where she was found dead in her cell three days later. Her death was ruled a suicide. The video she recorded was apparently not seen by lawmakers, Bland's family, their attorneys or the public until a reporter released it earlier this month – nearly four years later.
"Thank you for giving us the opportunity to refute, okay, this gross misinformation that was reported to the public," McCraw said in his opening statements.
McCraw and Adkins told lawmakers Waller County attorneys provided all of the data from Bland's phone to her family's attorney in October 2015.
"He says, 'If they had turned it over, I would have seen it,'" State Rep. Shawn Thierry (D -Houston) said. "I've not seen that. Which one is true?"
"I know that all of the data from the cellphone was delivered to him," Adkins answered. "I take him at his word that he did not see this video."
It raised the question from lawmakers: Did the family attorneys know they had the video?
Adkins confirmed when Waller County attorneys provided the video to the family attorney, they did not provide a table of contents or index of the data provided to him. But he added there was mention of Bland's video in the Ranger Report, which was also given to attorneys.
Adkins read what the report states about the video.
"The video recording depicted Trooper Encinia reaching into the car and then removed his taser from his holster while he ordered Bland out of the vehicle," Adkins said.
That description led to one, of many, heated exchanges between Rep. Coleman and the DPS leaders.
"That description of the video is not what you see on her video," Rep. Coleman said. "That's not what you see."
"I think it's an accurate description of the video," Adkins countered.
"You do?" Rep. Coleman questioned, sarcastically.
"Absolutely," Adkins said.
"You do," Rep. Coleman said again.
Rep. Coleman said if he seems "skeptical" it's because he has good reason. He has been investigating Bland's death for years. He stated upon his request for information, DPS also provided him with four discs containing the Ranger Report. But he describes it as a "data dump" that he and his staff couldn't decipher.
"So I'm asking a direct question, and I want a yes or no answer," Rep. Coleman said. "Was the video in that disk of information you sent to me?"
"I don't know that it wasn't," Adkins said.
Tensions continued to flare during the two-hour long hearing.
"If for some reason you didn't get it, I apologize for that," Adkins told Rep. Coleman, speaking about knowledge of the cellphone video.
"Well, you can apologize but –" Rep. Coleman said before he was interrupted.
"Well, I apologize that you didn't understand it because you did get it," Adkins said.
"What?" Rep. Coleman asked.
"Yes, you got it," Adkins said.
Questions from various lawmakers eventually resulted in a timeline of the video's eventual public release, which went as follows:
According to McCraw and Adkins, Bland was arrested on July 10, 2015. She was found dead in a Waller County jail cell on July 13. McCraw stated DPS knew she had taken cellphone video of the confrontation because she can be heard saying so in the dashcam video. On July 21, 2015, DPS released that dashcam video. After Bland's death, DPS obtained a search warrant to retrieve the video from her phone. It wasn't until September 17, 2015 that DPS received the video back after having the FBI get the file from her cell phone. Adkins said there is a certified mail document showing a thumb-drive with all of the data from Bland's phone was delivered to the family attorney on October 30, 2015. On June 28, 2017, DPS declared its active investigation complete and between June and July 2017, Bland's phone was returned to her mother. Adkins confirmed the phone was intact. Adkins revealed that on September 5, 2017, DPS released the video to KXAN News, but the station never aired it. On May 6, 2019, a Tegna station shared the video in a story with Bland's sisters and the family attorney.
"After her death, we were trying to figure out what happened that day that made this officer do what he did to bring her into custody," State Rep. Alex Dominguez (D-Brownsville) said. "And I think if we had seen that video, the public might have a different perspective on things."
Before leaving, McCraw told lawmakers he would work to make sure this didn't happen again.
"So let me ask you if you can commit to helping from your side," State Rep. Jon Rosenthal (D-Houston) said. "So in the case where something is delivered, something is requested by us in the legislature or another body just to check back and say, 'Did what we deliver fulfill your requirement' or is there some other way? You know what I'm asking – to just close the loop."
"Yes sir," McCraw replied. "Based on your statement today, that will be the new policy. And moreover, we're going to have a list that is more detailed to provide, to whomever requested the information so they can understand very clearly the contents in terms of what exactly we provided."
Rep. Coleman also asked Darren McCarty and Nichole Bunker-Henderson of the Attorney General's Civil Litigation Division to briefly testify, along with Jason Hermus, felony chief for the Dallas County Criminal District Attorney's Office.
The hearing ended shortly after 10 a.m., which was when the House was scheduled to begin meeting for the day.
But Rep. Coleman made it clear he's not finished with this investigation.
"We're going to have another hearing," Rep. Coleman said. "Now I know we have to."
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