Prosecutors charged seven California Highway Patrol officers and a nurse with involuntary manslaughter on Wednesday in connection with… 2020 death of a man who shouted “I can’t breathe” while being restrained by several officers as they tried to take a blood sample.
Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascon announced charges related to Edward Bronstein’s death, which the Los Angeles County Coroner said was caused by “acute methamphetamine intoxication during law enforcement restraint.”
“The officers had a legal duty to Mr. Bronstein,” Gascon said during a news conference. “He was in their custody. We believe they failed in their duty and their failure was criminal negligence that caused his death,” he added.
Bronstein, 38, was arrested after a traffic stop on suspicion of drunk driving on March 31, 2020. He died at a CHP station in Altadena, north of downtown Los Angeles, less than two months before George Floyd was killed by police in Minneapolis where he, too, repeatedly told officers, “I can’t breathe.”
Luis Carrillo, the attorney representing Bronstein’s father, said in an email that his client was “delighted that CHP officers are charged with crimes because CHP officers have taken human lives and left a family in grief and grief.”
A nearly 18-minute video showing the officers’ treatment of Bronstein was released last year following a judge’s order in an ongoing federal lawsuit the man’s family has brought against the officers, alleging excessive force and civil rights violations.
Family members said Bronstein was terrified of needles and they believe this is why he was reluctant to comply with the CHP at first as they tried to take a blood sample.
The video, filmed by a sergeant, shows several officers forcing a handcuffed Bronstein onto a mat on the floor as he shouts, “I would willingly do it! I would willingly do it, I promise!”
He continues to scream as six officers grab him across the face—the lawsuit alleges they put their knees on his back—and call for help.
One of the officers replied, “It’s too late.” “Stop screaming!” Other cries.
“I can not breathe!” and “I can’t!” Bronstein cries, to which an officer replies, “Just relax and stop resisting!”
But Bronstein’s voice faded and then fell silent. While he is not responding, the nurse continues to draw blood and the officers continue to pin him up.
Realizing he may not have a pulse and does not appear to be breathing, they slap him in the face and say, “Edward, wake up.” More than 11 minutes after his final cry, they began CPR.
Bronstein never regained consciousness and was later pronounced dead.
In a statement, CHP Commissioner Sean Dury offered condolences to the family and said the agency’s mission is to prioritize the safety of all Californians.
“I am saddened that Mr. Bronstein died while we were in custody and care,” Dore said. “Any death in custody is a tragedy that we take very seriously.” “I understand that this case will now travel through the court system, and I respect the judicial process.”
The seven CHP agents, who were placed on administrative leave on Wednesday, have been identified as Sgt. Michael Little and Officers Dionisio Fiorella, Dustin Osmanson, Darren Parsons, Diego Romero, Justin Silva, and Marcel Thierry.
They face charges of manslaughter and felony assault under the color of power. If convicted, they could carry up to four years in prison.
It was not immediately clear if they had attorneys who could speak for them. The California Highway Patrol Association, the union that represents CHP officers, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The registered nurse, Larbi Baghalian, was also charged with manslaughter.
“I believe it is outrageous and irresponsible for a DA to charge a registered nurse (who was present for a statutory blood draw) with involuntary manslaughter,” John Kelly, attorney for Pagalian’s employer, Vital Medical, said in a statement. “I am not aware of anyone who saw that the nurse’s conduct in any way caused or contributed to this unfortunate death.”
No date has been set for the indictment.
The agency said Bronstein’s death prompted the CHP to change its policies to prevent officers “from using techniques or transportation methods that present a significant risk of local asphyxiation.” Additional training for uniformed officers has also been ordered.
In September 2021, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed a law banning police from using certain facial holds that have resulted in multiple unintentional deaths. The bill was intended to expand the state’s ban on chokeholds in the wake of Floyd’s killing.