HOUSTON – Family and friends of Sandra Bland gathered on FM 1098 in Waller County, Friday afternoon, near the spot where, three years and three days ago, a state trooper pulled Bland over for a traffic stop.
They tearfully released balloons.
"She was a very powerful woman. She knew her rights. And I hope that they know that it's okay to know your rights and to assert them. That no one should be able to take those away from you,” said Bland’s sister, Shante Needham.
“The family dynamics have changed. It's one person less at the table. Thanksgiving will definitely not be the same. Christmas has been a blur. When you lose someone, it's like a part of you leaves with them."
The trooper said Bland did not use her turn signal, which led to her arrest. She was placed in the Waller County Jail and just three days later, she was found hanged to death in her jail cell.
The medical examiner ruled it as a suicide when an autopsy revealed she hanged herself using a plastic trash bag.
Bland’s friends and family did not agree with the finding.
A grand jury indicted the trooper, who arrested Bland, Brian Encinia, for lying about the reason he said he removed Bland from her vehicle. He stated he removed her from the vehicle to further conduct a safer traffic investigation and the grand jury found that statement to be false.
Encinia has permanently surrendered his law enforcement license, which means he cannot be a peace officer again after an agreement was reached with the court system.
Since Bland's death, the family has fought for policy changes in jail.