DA Files Criminal Charges Against 7 CHP Officers In Death Of Man Detained For Suspected DUI
Los Angeles District Attorney George Gascón has charged a California Highway Patrol sergeant and six CHP officers with involuntary manslaughter in the 2020 death of Edward Bronstein, who had been pulled over for a suspected DUI.
Gascón said CHP Sgt. Michael Little and CHP officers Dionisio Fiorella, Dusty Osmanson, Darren Parsons, Diego Romero, Justin Silva and Marciel Terry were all also charged with one felony count of assault under the color of authority.
"These officers had a legal duty to Mr. Bronstein," Gascón told a news conference Wednesday. "He was in their custody. We believe that they failed their duty, and their failure was criminally negligent, causing his death."
The DA's office also charged registered nurse Arbi Baghalian with involuntary manslaughter. Baghalian attended to Bronstein during the incident.
Gascón ended the news conference without taking questions. His office said arraignment will be scheduled at a later date.
Bronstein's father, Edward Tapia, said of the charges, “I’m glad it came to this point where they get prosecuted so they can’t hurt nobody else." The family has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the CHP.
What the video shows
On March 31, 2020, Osmanson and Terry pulled the 38-year-old Bronstein over on the 5 Freeway in Burbank on suspicion of driving under the influence, according to the DA's office. They then took him to their Altadena station and obtained a warrant to draw his blood.
Last March, a judge hearing the family’s wrongful death lawsuit ordered the release of a video of what happened at the station.
In the video, officers lead a handcuffed Bronstein into what the Bronstein family's lawyers say is the station’s maintenance garage. An officer is heard telling him they have a court order to obtain a blood sample, and asks him to consent, which he is reluctant to do. Seated on his knees, Bronstein keeps asking why he has to go through the procedure.
One officer says, “this is your last opportunity. Otherwise you’re going face down on the mat and we’re gonna keep on going.” A few seconds later they start to force Bronstein face down on the mat, at which point he starts repeating, “I’ll do it willingly.” An officer is heard saying, “It’s too late."
As five officers pin him to the ground, Bronstein begins screaming as Baghalian works to take blood from his arm.
Bronstein screams “I can’t breathe” at least eight times as officers continue to forcibly restrain him. He can also be heard calling for help. After roughly two minutes, Bronstein goes silent, and Baghalian checks his pulse and injects him with something. He and the officers spend several minutes watching Bronstein, with officers at times calling out to him and gently slapping his face.
Several minutes later, one officer is heard saying, “Is he breathing? If he’s got a pulse and he’s not breathing, he still needs rescue, bro. Get some air in him.” Baghalian begins using a small bellows-type device to force air into Bronstein’s mouth. A couple minutes after that Baghalian begins chest compressions, and officers are seen preparing a defibrillator when the video ends.
You can watch the video here
(Warning: The footage is disturbing and may not be suitable for everyone.)
If convicted, the seven CHP officers each face a maximum of four years and eight months in prison. Baghalian could face four years in prison.
CHP says they've made changes
We have not yet reached the officers or Baghalian.
In a statement, CHP Commissioner Sean Duryee said, "I am saddened that Mr. Bronstein died while in our custody and care." The CHP said all seven officers have been placed on administrative leave per agency policy, and that it has taken corrective measures in response to the incident.
"CHP leadership updated agency policies to prevent officers from using techniques or transport methods that involve a substantial risk of positional asphyxia," it said in a statement.
In addition, it said "the agency conducted training for all uniformed employees to help them recognize individuals experiencing medical distress."
Finally, the CHP said it "is exploring alternatives to administering mandated chemical tests when people arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence refuse to submit to testing, as required by law."
Gascón has taken a more aggressive approach towards alleged law enforcement misconduct. Since he took office in December 2020, the DA has charged 11 officers with a crime in connection with a shooting or other use of force. In the two decades prior, only two officers were charged in connection with shootings.
(A new California law requires the state attorney general to investigate all law enforcement killings of unarmed civilians, but it took effect July 2021 and only applies to cases that occurred after that date.)
The coroner’s report said the cause of Bronstein's death was “acute methamphetamine intoxication during restraint by law enforcement.”
While noting that “a review of the circumstances and surveillance footage, indicate a temporal relationship between the restraint and cardiac arrest,” the report said "due to absence of autopsy findings of asphyxia or fatal trauma, and the presence of methamphetamine, the role of the restraint could not be definitively … assessed in contributing to death. Therefore the manner of death is undetermined.”
Edward Bronstein died in March 2020 while officers were forcibly taking a blood sample after his detention.
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