7 California Highway Patrol officers and nurses charged with deaths in custody in 2020
LOS ANGELES — Seven California Highway Patrol officers and a nurse have been charged with the 2020 death of a man who was restrained and complained he couldn’t breathe, the Los Angeles County District Attorney said Wednesday.
The CHP sergeant and six officers are each charged with one count of manslaughter and assault under the guise of authority in the death of Edward Bronstein, who was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence , said District Attorney George Gascón.
A registered nurse has been charged with manslaughter. Bronstein was held back after initially refusing a blood test, officials said.
The eight people charged have been identified as Sgt. Michel Petit; Officers Dionisio Fiorella, Dustin Osmanson, Darren Parsons, Diego Romero, Justin Silva and Marciel Terry; and registered nurse Arbi Baghalian.
Gascón called an 18-minute video of the incident, which was shown at a press conference on Wednesday, “difficult to watch and hear as Mr. Bronstein pleads for his life.”
“Mr. Bronstein screams ‘I can’t breathe’ over and over and asks for help as officers continue to hold him down,” Gascón said.
DUI traffic stop
Bronstein, of Burbank, was arrested on Interstate 5 on March 31, 2020, on suspicion of driving under the influence, Gascón said.
At a CHP station in Altadena, Los Angeles, Bronstein initially refused a blood test and a judge issued a warrant for a nurse to have his blood drawn, the CHP said.
The video, which a federal judge ordered released last year in a wrongful death lawsuit filed by Bronstein’s family, shows an officer telling Bronstein that if he doesn’t comply, “you go face down on the mat, and we’ll keep moving forward.”
As the officers move to restrain him, Bronstein says “I’ll gladly do so” repeatedly and shouts as several officers restrain him. He is told “too late,” the video shows.
Bronstein screams and says “I can’t breathe” repeatedly before falling silent, and the proceedings continue, as seen in the video.
Gascón said six minutes passed between Bronstein’s last cry and the moment he returned “completely lifeless”.
He is seated and officers tilt his head back, and officers holding him are instructed to keep his airway open and his name is called, but Bronstein does not respond, video shows. CPR begins 13 minutes after his last cry, Gascón said.
The Los Angeles County Medical Examiner’s Office lists the cause of death as “acute methamphetamine poisoning while in restraint by law enforcement.” One way is indeterminate.
Gascón said “these officers had a legal obligation to Mr. Bronstein” and that he was in their custody.
“We believe they failed in their duty, and their failure was criminal negligence, causing his death,” he said.
Family reacts to accusations
Tim M. Schuler, an attorney representing Baghalian, the nurse, in the civil suit, called the manslaughter charge against the nurse outrageous. He said Baghalian was there to take a legal blood test.
“I don’t know of anyone who felt that the nurse’s conduct caused or contributed in any way to this unfortunate death,” Schuler said.
Criminal Defense Lawyers for CHP Officers and Baghalian did not appear to be in online court records Wednesday night. Lawyers representing CHP officers in the civil wrongful death lawsuit did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The charged CHP officers face a maximum of four years and eight months in prison if convicted, and the nurse faces a maximum sentence of four years in prison if convicted, Gascón said.
Attorney Michael Carrillo, who is representing the Bronstein family in the civil suit, said the family is happy charges have been filed, although he believes the defendants could have been charged with second-degree murder.
“It’s a bit bittersweet. The family is happy, and we’re happy that they’re finally being held accountable and charged,” Carrillo said.
The civil suit is pending.
Bronstein’s father, Edward Tapia, said at Wednesday’s press conference that no one else should go through what his son went through.
“I think if you see the video you’ll understand,” he said. “I miss my son so much.”
CHP says it has made changes
CHP Commissioner Sean Duryee offered his condolences to Bronstein’s family in a statement Wednesday.
“Our agency’s top priority is to protect the safety and well-being of all Californians, and I am saddened that Mr. Bronstein passed away while in our custody and care,” Duryee said. “Any death in custody is a tragedy that we take very seriously.”
The CHP said that after Bronstein’s death, it updated its policies to prevent officers from using techniques or methods of transportation that pose risks of positional asphyxiation.
The Highway Patrol also said it has increased medical distress training and is exploring other ways to do chemical tests when people arrested for impaired driving refuse them.