California to pay $24 million settlement to family of Burbank man who died in police custody
California will pay a $24 million civil rights settlement to the family of a man who died in police custody in March 2020 after he yelled “I can’t breathe” when multiple officers tried to take a blood sample, lawyers said Tuesday.
Seven California Highway Patrol officers and one nurse was accused with the death of 38-year-old Edward Bronstein earlier this year by involuntary manslaughter.
It’s the largest civil rights settlement of its kind by the state of California, and the second largest nationally since the city of Minneapolis paid $27 million in George Floyd’s case, said attorneys for Bronstein’s minors, Annie Della Donna and Eric Dubin. Attorneys scheduled a news conference in Los Angeles on Wednesday to provide details.
The settlement comes amid renewed scrutiny of potentially fatal restraints following the death last week of New York City subway rider Jordan Neely, who was choked by a US Marine veteran. Bronstein’s death also echoes that of Eric Garner, a New Yorker who was choked by police in 2014 and whose dying words, “I can’t breathe,” became a protest song against racial injustice. Both Garner and Neely were black.
California Highway Patrol via AP
The Los Angeles County Coroner said Bronstein died “of acute methamphetamine intoxication while restrained by law enforcement.” The report lists Bronstein’s race as White.
Bronstein was taken into custody on March 31, 2020, following a traffic stop on suspicion of driving under the influence. Floyd died at a highway patrol station in downtown Altadena, north of Los Angeles, less than two months before police killed him in Minnesota. As he also repeatedly told officers, “I can’t breathe.”
In announcing the criminal charges in March, L.A. County District Attorney George Gascon said highway patrol officers failed Bronstein, “and their failure was criminally negligent, resulting in his death.”
A nearly 18-minute video showing the officers’ treatment of Bronstein was released last year after a judge ruled in the family’s federal lawsuit alleging excessive force and civil rights violations.
Family members said Bronstein was terrified of needles and they believe she was initially reluctant to comply with the CHP when trying to get a blood sample.
Video taken by the sergeant shows several officers forcing a handcuffed Bronstein onto a mat on the floor as he yells, “I’ll do it willingly! I’ll do it willingly, I promise!”
He continued to scream as six officers held him face down — the suit 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 offered his condolences to the family and said he would respect the judicial process. His office did not immediately respond Tuesday to a request for comment on the settlement.
The officers, who were on administrative leave in March, face one count each of involuntary manslaughter under color of authority and one count of felonious assault. They face up to four years in prison if convicted. The registered nurse was also charged with involuntary manslaughter.
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, 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.