On Wednesday, prosecutors in California filed involuntary manslaughter charges against seven California Highway Patrol officers and a nurse in connection with the death of a man in 2020 who yelled “I can’t breathe” while being restrained by multiple officers who were attempting to take a blood sample.
The charges in the death of Edward Bronstein were announced by Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón. “acute methamphetamine intoxication during restraint by law enforcement.” according to the county coroner.
“The officers had a legal duty to Mr. Bronstein,” Gascón said during a news conference. “He was in their custody. We believe that they failed their duty and their failure was criminally negligent, causing his death.”
On March 31, 2020, Bronstein, age 38, was arrested on suspicion of DUI after being pulled over. He was shot and killed at a CHP station in Altadena, north of downtown Los Angeles, less than two months before George Floyd was shot and killed by Minneapolis police while also telling them, “I can’t breathe.”
Bronstein’s dad is “glad that the CHP officers were charged with crimes because the CHP officers took a human life and left a family in grief and sadness.” his lawyer Luis Carrillo wrote in an email.
Carollo alleged to CBS News that Bronstein’s death was not caused by the methamphetamine in his system, but rather by the actions of the police. Carillo added that Bronstein’s BAC was 0.07%, which is below the threshold for legal intoxication.
A judge ordered the release of a roughly 18-minute video documenting the police’ treatment of Bronstein last year, as part of an ongoing federal lawsuit filed by Bronstein’s family against the cops, in which they allege that the officers used excessive force and violated Bronstein’s constitutional rights.
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Members of Bronstein’s family have expressed concern that his initial reluctance to cooperate with the CHP when they attempted to obtain a blood sample was due to his fear of needles. Bronstein can be heard on the video, recorded by a sergeant, saying, “I’ll do it willingly! I’ll do it willingly, I promise!” as he is restrained by several officers and brought to the floor on a mat.
Six officers have him face down and he continues to scream and plead for help while they are allegedly putting their knees on his back (according to the lawsuit). One cop responds, “It’s too late.” Someone another yells, “Quit being so loud!”
“I can’t breathe!” and “I can’t!” Bronstein cries, and an officer responds, “Just relax and stop resisting!” But, Bronstein’s tone softens, and he eventually stops talking altogether. He remains comatose as the nurse draws blood and the officers maintain a firm grip on him.
At 11 minutes after his last screams, they start performing CPR after realizing he may not have a pulse and does not appear to be breathing. Bronstein lost consciousness and was subsequently declared deceased.
In a statement, CHP Commissioner Sean Duryee expressed his condolences to the family and emphasized the agency’s commitment to ensuring the safety of all Californians.
“I am saddened that Mr. Bronstein died while in our custody and care. Any death in custody is a tragedy that we take with upmost seriousness,” Duryee said. “I recognize this case will now move through the court system, and I respect the judicial process.”
Officers Dionisio Fiorella, Dustin Osmanson, Darren Parsons, Diego Romero, Justin Silva, and Marciel Terry, together with Sergeant Michael Little, were placed on administrative leave on Wednesday.
As of Wednesday night, no police have turned themselves in, according to Tiffiny Blacknell, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office. “They will arrange their surrender,” Blacknell said.
They are being charged with one count of felony assault while in an official capacity and one count of involuntary manslaughter each. A maximum sentence of four years imprisonment awaits a guilty verdict.
The California Association of Highway Patrolmen, the organization that represents regular CHP officers, did not immediately respond to a request for comment, so it was unclear whether they had lawyers who could speak on their behalf. Arbi Baghalian, the nurse, has been charged with involuntary manslaughter as well.
“I believe it is outrageous and irresponsible for the DA to charge a Registered Nurse (who was present to take a legal blood draw) with involuntary manslaughter,” said John Kelly, an attorney for Baghalian’s employer, Vital Medical, in a statement.
“I am not aware of anyone who has opined that the nurse’s conduct in any way caused or contributed to this unfortunate death.”
The court has not yet set a date for the arraignment. After Bronstein’s death, the CHP said it would prohibit officers “from using techniques or transport methods that involve a substantial risk of positional asphyxia,” It was also mandated that uniformed officers receive more training.
Legislation prohibiting the use of specific face-down holds by law enforcement, which has been linked to many unintentional deaths, was signed into law by California Governor Gavin Newsom in September 2021. Following Floyd’s death, lawmakers sought to strengthen existing state legislation prohibiting the use of chokeholds.
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