Los Angeles Times
Two years after a man died in police custody after being detained as a DUI suspect, attorneys for his family have obtained a video showing his last moments as California Highway Patrol officers hold him and forcibly draw his blood as he repeatedly tells them, “I can’t breathe.”
When Edward Bronstein’s family sued last year over the March 2020 death at a CHP maintenance yard in Altadena, state attorneys revealed during discovery there was a video of his death.
They tried to keep the video under wraps, arguing it should not be made public. But a federal judge overseeing the civil case ruled earlier this year the family had a right to the video. On Tuesday, its contents were disclosed.
“The state of California did not want us to release this video,” said Luis Carrillo, a veteran civil rights attorney known for handling police misconduct cases who is representing the Bronstein family. “Thank God that the judge agreed with us, and that’s why you can now see this video. … It’s horrible, but it is the only way his family can get some justice.”
CHP officials declined Wednesday to comment on Bronstein’s death, citing the ongoing litigation.
Bronstein’s death came two months before that of George Floyd, who was murdered in May 2020 by a Minneapolis police officer who knelt on his neck and compressed his airway. Floyd’s death sparked nationwide calls for police reform.
Many police departments avoid restraint procedures in which detainees suspected of narcotics use are hog-tied or placed face-down and officers’ body weight is used to subdue them. Yet the CHP used this practice while detaining Bronstein, the video shows.
Bronstein was pulled over by CHP Officer Dusty Osmanson on the 5 Freeway on suspicion of driving under the influence and was taken to the Altadena station.
Once there, officers tried to draw his blood to measure Bronstein’s alcohol level. He refused.
In a 16-minute video recorded by a CHP sergeant, Bronstein can be seen kneeling on the ground while a gloved officer presses his hands onto his shoulders and an officer who is off-camera informs the 38-year-old to comply with a court-ordered blood draw.
“You are bringing the fight to this, not us,” one of the officers says.
Bronstein replies: “I am not bringing the fight at all.”
An officer then warns Bronstein if does not comply “you are going face-down on the mat, and we going to keep on going.”
Officers then flip him onto the ground, at which point, he shouts, “I’ll do it willingly! I’ll do it willingly!”
Additional officers then surround him, holding him down with their body weight as he repeatedly shouts in distress. After nearly a minute of being pinned, he says, “I can’t breathe!”
After Bronstein stills, another minute passes and officers continue the blood draw. When they realize he is not responding and they try to revive him, one calls his name and slaps the side of his head while he remains face-down on the ground. Eventually, he is turned over and an officer asks for oxygen and to perform CPR.
Michael Carrillo, another of the Bronstein family attorneys, said when officers heard the words, “I can’t breathe,” they should have stopped.
“Not one officer took the action to pull the others off of him, pull him to the side, do something to give him air,” Carrillo said. “When they finally flip him over, he’s lifeless.”
The family is suing for wrongful death, civil rights violations, assault and battery, and failure to render adequate medical care.
A Los Angeles County coroner’s office report declared Bronstein’s cause of death “undetermined.” The agency attributed it to “acute methamphetamine, intoxication during restraint by law enforcement.”
But Bronstein’s family wants the officers involved in his death criminally charged.
“Nobody deserves to die this way. He was treated like trash, like his life was not deserving,” Brianna Palomino, Bronstein’s daughter, said at a news conference announcing the release of the video.
Luis Carrillo said the video was not part of the usual CHP protocol and was shot by a sergeant. While CHP cars have dash cams, officers do not wear body cameras.
“I suspect they shot this for training purposes and then realized later they had to reveal its existence,” he said.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.