6 CHP officers, sergeant charged in Burbank man’s death while in custody
A California Highway Patrol sergeant and six CHP officers were charged with involuntary manslaughter and assault under the color of authority in the death of a Burbank man who was restrained after refusing to have his blood drawn following a traffic stop on the Golden State (5) Freeway, District Attorney George Gascón announced Wednesday.
The charges stem from the March 31, 2020, death of 38-year-old Edward Bronstein, who can be heard on video repeatedly screaming, “I can’t breathe!” while outside a nearby CHP station in Altadena.
“These officers had a legal duty to Mr. Bronstein. He was in their custody. We believe that they failed their duty and their failure was criminally negligent, causing his death,” Gascón said at a downtown Los Angeles news conference announcing the charges.
A registered nurse, Arbi Baghalian, 42, was also charged with one count of involuntary manslaughter and could face a maximum of four years in prison, according to Gascón.
An arraignment date has not yet been set for Sgt. Michael Little, 57; Dionisio Fiorella, 39; Dustin Osmanson, 41; Darren Parsons, 48; Diego Romero, 35; Justin Silva, 30; and Marciel Terry, 32. They could each face up to four years and eight months in state prison if convicted as charged, according to the county’s top prosecutor.
The district attorney noted that Bronstein initially declined to have his blood drawn following the freeway stop in Burbank on suspicion of driving under the influence and that an 18-minute video recorded by a CHP sergeant shows an officer warning him that if he didn’t comply, he would be going “face down on the mat and we’re going to keep going.”
“The video shows several officers restraining Mr. Bronstein, who is handcuffed and face down on the mat …,” Gascón said. “What ensued is difficult to watch and hear as Mr. Bronstein pleads for his life. A group of officers holds him down and presses their knees on his legs and neck as he repeatedly promises them that he will comply. One officer responds, `It’s too late.’ Mr. Bronstein screams, `I can’t breathe!’ over and over and pleads for help while officers continue to restrain him and even demanding that he stop yelling.”
Bronstein became “unresponsive” and officers held him down as a medical professional drew a vial of blood from him, and a second vial of blood was collected as he was “laying so lifelessly that the officers no longer need to hold him down because he’s dying as they’re watching,” the district attorney said.
“When they turn him over six minutes after his last scream, he is completely lifeless,” Gascón said. “More than 13 minutes after Mr. Bronstein last screamed, they began CPR but are unsuccessful.”
The district attorney noted that the video — which was played after the charges were announced — is “extremely graphic.”
In a statement, CHP Commissioner Sean Duryee said, “On behalf of the entire California Highway Patrol, I extend my deepest condolences to the family of Mr. Edward Bronstein. Our agency’s top priority is protecting the safety and well-being of all Californians, and I am saddened that Mr. Bronstein died while in our custody and care. Any death in custody is a tragedy that we take with utmost seriousness. I recognize this case will now move through the court system, and I respect the judicial process.”
The sergeant and officers have been placed on administrative leave as a result of the charges, according to the CHP.
A judge had issued a warrant authorizing officers to utilize an on-call registered nurse to get a blood sample from Bronstein after he refused to submit to a blood test, and the coroner’s office concluded that Bronstein died of “acute methamphetamine intoxication during restraint by law enforcement,” according to the CHP.
Luis Carrillo, an attorney representing Bronstein’s family members in a federal lawsuit that was filed against the officers and the state of California, said, “We’re very happy that there’s some measure of justice by the filing of criminal charges. … They took a human life and they really don’t deserve the badge they carry.”