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7 California officers charged with manslaughter in 2020 traffic stop death

Prosecutors charged seven California Highway Patrol officers and a nurse with involuntary manslaughter on Wednesday. 2020 is the death of a man who screamed “I can’t breathe” as multiple officers restrained him as he tried to take a blood sample.

Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascon announced the death of Edward Bronstein, which the LA County Coroner said was “due to acute methamphetamine intoxication while restrained by law enforcement.”

“The officers had a legal responsibility to Mr. Bronstein,” Gascon said at a news conference. “He was in their custody. We believe they failed in their duty and their failure was criminally negligent in causing his death.”

Death in California Police Custody

FILE – Edward Bronstein, 38, is taken into custody by CHP officers after a traffic stop in Los Angeles County on March 31, 2020, in this photo taken from about 18 minutes of video taken by California Highway Patrol Sgt.

California Highway Patrol via AP

Bronstein, 38, was taken into custody on March 31, 2020, following a traffic stop on suspicion of driving under the influence. He died at a CHP station in Altadena, north of downtown Los Angeles, less than two months before George Floyd was killed. As he repeatedly told officers in Minneapolis, “I can’t breathe.”

Luis Carrillo, an attorney representing Bronstein’s father, said in an email that his client was “pleased that the CHP officers were charged with a crime because the CHP officers took a human life and left a family in grief and sorrow.”

Carollo told CBS News that Bronstein had a “trace” amount of methamphetamine in his system, and he contended that Bronstein’s death was primarily caused by the officers’ actions. Carrillo also said Bronstein’s blood alcohol content was 0.07%, just below the legal limit, when he was pulled over.

A nearly 18-minute video showing the officers’ treatment of Bronstein was released last year after a judge ruled in an ongoing federal lawsuit that the man’s family filed against the officers alleging excessive force and civil rights violations.

Family members said Bronstein was terrified of needles and believe that’s why he was initially reluctant to comply with CHP when trying to get a blood sample.

The video, shot by a sergeant, shows several officers forcing a handcuffed Bronstein to a mat on the floor, yelling, “I’ll do it willingly! I’ll do it willingly, I promise!”

He continued to scream as six officers held him face down — the lawsuit alleges they knelt on his back — and begged for help.

“It’s too late,” an officer replies. “Stop crying!” shouted another.

“I can’t breathe!” and “I can’t!” Bronstein cries, and an officer responds, “Just relax and stop resisting!”

But Bronstein’s voice softened and he fell silent. When he remained unresponsive, the nurse continued to draw blood and the officers held him down.

Realizing that he has no pulse and doesn’t seem to be breathing, they slap him in the face and say, “Edward, get up.” More than 11 minutes after her last scream, they started CPR.

Bronstein never regained consciousness and was later pronounced dead.

In a statement, CHP Commissioner Sean Dury expressed his 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 in our custody and care. Any death in custody is a tragedy that we take with the utmost seriousness,” Drury said. “I recognize that this case will now go through the court system and I respect the judicial process.”

The seven CHP agents, who were placed on administrative leave Wednesday, were identified as Sgt. Michael Little and officers Dionisio Fiorella, Dustin Osmanson, Darren Parsons, Diego Romero, Justin Silva and Marcial Terry.

Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Tiffany Blacknell said that, as of Wednesday evening, no officers had turned themselves in.

“They will arrange their surrender,” Blacknell said.

They face one count of involuntary manslaughter under color of authority and one count of felonious assault. They face up to four years in prison if convicted.

It was not immediately clear if they had lawyers who could speak on their behalf, and the California Association of Highway Patrolmen, the union representing rank-and-file CHP officers, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

A registered nurse, RB Baghalian, has also been charged with involuntary manslaughter.

“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,” John Kelly, attorney for Vital Medical, Baghlian’s employer, said 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.”

A sentencing has not yet been scheduled.

Bronstein’s death prompted the CHP to change its policy to prevent officers from “using maneuvers or methods of transportation that involve a substantial risk of positional asphyxia”. Additional training of uniformed officers has also been ordered.

In September 2021, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed a law barring police from using some face-down holds that have caused multiple unintentional deaths. The bill was aimed at expanding the state’s ban on chokeholds in the wake of Floyd’s murder.

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