Legislation preventing police from making traffic stop arrests could become law

Traffic Stop - driver

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Nobody said making laws was pretty.

After multiple attempts failed, the legislative language that would prohibit police officers from making arrests during traffic offense stops might become Texas law after all. 

Criminal justice advocates have been driven to change state law they claim led to the death of Sandra Bland, who died in jail after she was pulled over for a traffic violation. According to law enforcement officials, she committed suicide. 

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Late Tuesday night, Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, attached an amendment to a Senate Bill about keeping crime records, shortly before a midnight deadline to do so. 

The amendment makes a law enforcement officer provide a reason to the judge that

  • the person arrested was an ongoing danger to public safety or breach of the peace 
  • that the danger might reoccur
  • that the person is unable to identify themselves 
  • a person refuses to sign a citation promising to pay the fine or appear in court.

If none of this happens, the magistrate must dismiss the case. 

The changed bill passed the Texas House 81 to 52. Changes will have to be approved by the Texas Senate before the bill goes to Governor Greg Abbott to sign or veto. 

The measure was opposed throughout the legislative session by police associations like the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas. 

The original author of Senate Bill 815 is a fellow El Paso area lawmaker, Senator Jose Rodriguez. KXAN reached out for comment to Rodriguez’s office and is waiting to hear back. 

Texas police officers can legally arrest someone when the punishment for action would only be a fine — like a traffic stop. Originally, House Bill 2754 tried to stop this by allowing a police officer to arrest someone if they assault someone or are publically intoxicated. 

In mid-May, Democratic House members fumbled an attempt to pass the legislation by a prominent supporter not knowing what was in the bill, causing it to fail on a vote once. Then, when Democrats tried to bring the idea back for another look, many of them left early for the weekend and were not in the room to vote — causing the bill to fail again. 

The Sandra Bland Case

In 2015, State Trooper Brian Encinia pulled over Sandra Bland for not using her turn signal. The conversation became heated and the trooper threatened to use a stun gun on her. Much of the argument was captured by the Encinia’s dashcam camera and Bland’s cell phone.

She was charged with assaulting a public servant and officials say she committed suicide in the Waller County Jail three days later. The officer was later indicted for perjury and fired, but the charges were dropped after he agreed to never work as a police officer again. 

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