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Texas lawmakers hold House hearing Friday to seek answers about new Sandra Bland cellphone video

Rep. Garnet Coleman, chair of the House County Affairs Committee, said he wants to know if cellphone video was withheld from the Bland family by the Texas Attorney General and DPS.
Credit: WFAA

DALLAS — A Texas House committee will hold a hearing  Friday at the state Capitol to address the video Sandra Bland recorded during her arrest on July 21, 2015 in Waller County.

State Rep. Garnet Coleman, of Houston, said he plans to hold the hearing after WFAA released the cellphone video that the Bland family and their six attorneys said they had never seen before. 

The family claimed DPS and the Texas Attorney never turned it over during their federal civil rights lawsuit.

RELATED: Texas House committee to host Sandra Bland hearing after new cellphone video

RELATED: Sandra Bland recorded her own arrest. Watch her cellphone video from the 2015 traffic stop

The Texas Department of Public Safety and the Texas Attorney General denied they withheld the evidence.

The video was publicly released as part of a WFAA exclusive in partnership with the Investigative Network.

In the cellphone footage, DPS Trooper Brian Encinia, who was later fired, is heard saying: "I will light you up. Get out. Now." 

At the time, his Taser was drawn and pointed at Bland. 

Three days after the video was recorded and Bland was taken into custody, she was found dead in a Waller County jail cell. Her death was ruled a suicide. 

Geneva Reed-Veal, Bland's mother, filed a wrongful death lawsuit against DPS, Waller County, and Encinia in federal court. Court records show family attorneys repeatedly asked for all videos, sound and tape recordings. 

However, lead family attorney Cannon Lambert said he never saw the 39-second cellphone footage until the non-profit Investigative Network brought it to his attention. 

"Yeah, no wonder they settled the case," Lambert said of the Bland family lawsuit. "You know, with the Rangers the most we could get was $100,000. No wonder they wanted to settle it so quick. They're sitting on this crap."

And federal court records revealed DPS and the Texas Attorney General opposed requests from the family's lawyers to turn over crucial evidence. Citing an ongoing investigation into Encinia, DPS claimed it was immune from lawsuits.

The cellphone video was referenced a total of 59 times in a Texas Ranger report, which was later released publicly after the Bland family settled their lawsuit and a perjury charge against Encinia was dropped

DPS suggested the Bland family and their lawyers simply missed Bland's cellphone video. In a statement, DPS officials said they "complied with its discovery obligations in the civil litigation."

RELATED: Sandra Bland's family settles wrongful death lawsuit for $1.9M

In a statement late Wednesday, Katherine Cesinger, a DPS spokeswoman with DPS, said the release of evidence in a civil matter could have "a negative impact on the criminal investigation."

However, Cesinger claimed Waller County had in fact turned over the contents of Bland's cellphone to all parties in the civil lawsuit on Oct. 30, 2015.

"Any claim of 'concealment' of this video is demonstrably false and should be corrected," she said. 

Sandra Bland's sister, Shante Needham, said their family never saw the cellphone video, and believes DPS didn't want the video released after the trooper's dashcam video sparked public outrage. 

"And I think if everyone had saw this, it would've just made DPS look horrible," she said.

As for the federal court evidence, Bland's attorneys were ordered to give it all back when the lawsuit was settled. 

Coleman, chair of the County Affairs Committee, said he's invited officials with the Texas Attorney General and DPS to testify. 

Coleman introduced the Sandra Bland Act, which was signed into law in June 2017. The law mandates county jails send people with mental health and substance abuse issues into treatment. 

The hearing will take place at 8 a.m. on Friday at the Texas State Capitol. 

RELATED: Texas Senate unanimously passes Sandra Bland Act