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Trooper Encinia: You mind putting out your cigarette, please? If you don’t mind?

Was it legal? Yes and no. It would have been legal if he’d said it correctly. Even the Breitbart website, which staunchly defends the cop, noted,

Trooper Encinia politely asks her to put out her cigarette. This is a common request by officers…

“Request” is the key word. But here’s the thing. He said it that way to trick Sandra Bland into making a mistake he could arrest her for. He wanted her to believe it was only a suggestion, which she could choose to follow or not. And still, she did not outright refuse, but merely asked a question:

Sandra Bland: I’m in my car, why do I have to put out my cigarette?

That, supposedly, was the justification for Encinia to flip immediately into BadCop mode:

Trooper Encinia: Well you can step on out now.

That’s where everything went haywire, as a result of his order that wasn’t really an order, and her refusal that wasn’t really a refusal. Paradoxically, his clever trick of disguising the cigarette order as a polite request, is exactly what made it illegal.

Let’s play back the notorious line again:

Trooper Encinia: You mind putting out your cigarette, please? If you don’t mind?

This piece of performance art enabled innumerable trolls to become indignant on the trooper’s behalf. “Look how polite he was,” they say. Yes, a perfect Southern gentleman. Out of the whole tragedy, it’s difficult to choose the most egregious example of authoritarian bullshit, but this might be it. According to the legal experts, Encinia had a right to tell – not ask – a driver to put out a cigarette.

His duty was to be clear about the mandatory nature of the demand, by stating that it was an order. But he failed. He just went right ahead and skipped that step, and decided to give her a ration of shit. As others have mentioned, just because an officer has the legal right to order someone to extinguish a cigarette, that doesn’t mean the officer must issue such an order, and many don’t. An online comment to a news article says,

I have been in law enforcement for nearly twelve years… I cannot conceive a reason why he would think he would have her to put her cigarette out so that he could have her sign a WARNING ticket.

So what, supposedly, was Trooper Encinia’s reason? Well, his fanboys and girls say the officer has the right to breathe clean air while doing his job. Bullshit. He was outside in the open air, and nothing obligated him to remain standing there a moment longer. All he had to do was hand over a piece of paper, get it signed, and bounce. If he had done what he was supposed to do, there was no reason for one molecule of smoke to affect him. He was the one blowing smoke.

Another theory is that he was afraid of coming into contact with the lit end. For the Wonkette website, Doktor Zoom wrote,

Yes, cops can in fact tell you to put out your cigarette in your own car during a traffic stop, because they don’t want to be facing an angry person with a burning-hot object in their hands.

If Sandra had tried to hold the clipboard with one hand and the pen with the other to sign her name, did he really expect a third hand to come at him with a cigarette? If he was so damn worried about the possibility, why did he insist on moving closer? A very smart writer named Ian Millhiser says,

Additionally, Trooper Encinia did not mention the argument over the cigarette (or the fact that he pulled his stun gun) in his official incident report. If Encinia truly believed that the lit cigarette was a danger to his safety that offered a legal justification for his actions, then it is unlikely that he would not have mentioned it in the report.