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Criminal Justice

California Agrees To Pay $24M To Family Of Man Who Died In CHP Custody In Altadena

Edward Bronstein poses with one of his daughters. Bronstein has a mustache and smiles at the camera. He wears a blue baseball cap.
Edward Bronstein (R) with one of his daughters.
(Courtesy Bronstein family )
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In one of the largest settlements of its kind in the nation, the state of California has agreed to pay $24 million to the family of Edward Bronstein, who died in CHP custody in Altadena in 2020. The city of Minneapolis paid $27 million in the George Floyd case.

Bronstein died as several CHP officers and a nurse were attempting to forcibly draw a blood sample as part of a DUI test. The incident was caught on videotape and Bronstein can be heard repeatedly screaming "I can't breathe" before he goes limp.

The incident occurred two months before Floyd's murder.

“This was a case where the state had no defense,” said Annee Della Donna, attorney for Bronstein's three minor children. She said Bronstein never posed a threat to the officers.

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Della Donna expressed hope the large payout will send a message. “Everyone in America is done with this,” she said. “We need to stop what’s going on with police departments where they are killing innocent people.”

Last month, Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón filed involuntary manslaughter charges against seven CHP officers and the nurse in connection with Bronstein's death.

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 said. "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.

Della Donna said the DA's case is crucial. “Until there is accountability in the criminal courts for the officers, we are not done with our job,” she said.

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.

He was not immediately available for comment on the settlement.

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.

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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.)

Coroner's report

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.”

Bronstein family attorney Della Donna said an independent medical exam found the methamphetamine in his blood had nothing to do with his death.

“The reason why his heart stopped, the reason why he became brain dead was a lack of oxygen from the restraint by the officers and nothing else,” she said.

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