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California to pay $24 million settlement to family of man who died in police custody


LOS ANGELES — California will pay a $24 million civil rights settlement to the family of a man who died in police custody after he shouted “I can’t breathe” as multiple officers restrained him as he was attempting to take a blood sample, lawyers said Tuesday.

Seven California Highway Patrol officers and a nurse were charged with manslaughter earlier this year in connection with the 2020 death of 38-year-old Edward Bronstein.

Annee Della Donna and Eric Dubin, attorneys for Bronstein young children, said it was the largest civil rights settlement of its kind by the state of California and the second largest nationally since the city was of Minneapolis paid $27 million in the George Floyd case. The attorneys have scheduled a press conference in Los Angeles on Wednesday to provide details.

The settlement comes amid a new review of life-threatening restraints following the death last week of New York City subway passenger Jordan Neely who was placed in a chokehold by a US Navy veteran. Bronstein’s death also echoes that of Eric Garner, a New Yorker who was strangled by police in 2014 and whose last words “I can’t breathe” became a chant in protests against racial injustice. Garner and Neely were both black.

The Los Angeles County coroner said Bronstein’s death was caused by “acute methamphetamine intoxication while in restraint by law enforcement.” The report lists Bronstein’s race as white.

Bronstein was taken into custody following a traffic stop for suspected driving under the influence on March 31, 2020. He died at a highway patrol station in Altadena, north of downtown Los Angeles, less than two months before Floyd was killed by Minnesota police. as he too repeatedly told the officers: “I can’t breathe”.

When the criminal charges were announced in March, Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón said highway patrol officers failed Bronstein, “and their failure was criminal negligence, causing his death.”

A nearly 18-minute video showing officers’ treatment of Bronstein was released last year following a judge’s order in the family’s federal lawsuit alleging excessive force and violation civil rights.

Family members say Bronstein was terrified of needles and they believe that’s why he was reluctant to comply with the CHP initially as they attempted to take a blood sample.

The video, filmed by the sergeant, shows several officers forcing a handcuffed Bronstein to a mat on the ground as he shouts, “I’ll gladly do it!” I will do it gladly, promise!

He continues to scream as six officers hold him face down – the lawsuit alleged they put their knees on his back – and plead for help.

“It’s too late,” replies an officer. “Stop screaming!” shouts another.

“I can not breathe !” and “I can’t!” Bronstein cries and an officer responds, “Relax and stop resisting!

But Bronstein’s voice becomes softer and he falls silent. While he is unresponsive, the nurse continues to draw blood and the officers continue to pin him to the ground.

After realizing he might not have a pulse and didn’t seem to be breathing, they slapped his face and said, “Edward, wake up.” More than 11 minutes after his last cries, they begin CPR.

Bronstein never regained consciousness and was later pronounced dead.

In a statement, CHP Commissioner Sean Duryee offered his condolences to the family and said he would respect the legal process. His office did not immediately respond Tuesday to request for comment on the settlement.

The officers, who were placed on administrative leave in March, face one count of manslaughter and one count of assault under the guise of authority. If found guilty, they face up to four years in prison. The registered nurse was also charged with manslaughter.

Bronstein’s death prompted the CHP to change its policies to prevent officers “from using techniques or methods of transportation that involve a substantial risk of positional asphyxiation,” the agency said. Additional training was also ordered for uniformed officers.

In September 2021, Governor Gavin Newsom signed legislation prohibiting police from using certain face-down holds that resulted in multiple unintentional deaths. The bill sought to expand the state’s ban on chokeholds in the wake of Floyd’s murder.

Joanna Swanson

Joanna Swanson is Europe correspondent at the Thomson Reuters Foundation based in Brussels covering politics, culture, business, climate change, society, economies and inclusive tech. With specific focus in breaking news, she has covered some of the world's most significant stories.