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7 California Highway Patrol officers and nurse charged in 2020 in-custody death

A video shows Edward Bronstein said “I can’t breathe” as he was held down by officers who sought to draw blood after a suspected DUI incident in 2020.

LOS ANGELES — Seven California Highway Patrol officers and a nurse have been charged in the 2020 death of a man who was held down and complained he couldn’t breathe, Los Angeles County’s district attorney said Wednesday.

The CHP sergeant and six officers are charged with one count apiece of involuntary manslaughter and assault under the color of authority in the death of Edward Bronstein, who had been arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence, District Attorney George Gascón said.

A registered nurse was charged with involuntary manslaughter. Bronstein was held down after he initially refused a blood draw, officials said.

The eight people charged were identified as Sgt. Michael Little; Officers Dionisio Fiorella, Dustin Osmanson, Darren Parsons, Diego Romero, Justin Silva and Marciel Terry; and registered nurse Arbi Baghalian.

Edward Bronstein is held down by CHP officers.
Edward Bronstein is held down by CHP officers.CHP

Gascón called an 18-minute video of the incident, which was shown at a news conference Wednesday, “difficult to watch and hear as Mr. Bronstein pleads for his life.”

“Mr. Bronstein screams ‘I can’t breathe’ over and over and pleads for help while officers continue to restrain him,” Gascón said.

DUI traffic stop

Bronstein, of Burbank, was pulled over on Interstate 5 on March 31, 2020, on suspicion of driving under the influence, Gascón said.

At a CHP station in Altadena, in the Los Angeles area, Bronstein initially refused a blood draw, and a judge issued a warrant authorizing his blood to be taken by a nurse, the CHP said.

The video, which a federal judge ordered released last year as part of a wrongful-death lawsuit filed by Bronstein’s family, shows an officer telling Bronstein that if he didn't comply, “you’re going facedown on the mat, and we’re going to keep on going."

As officers move to restrain him, Bronstein says “I’ll do it willingly” repeatedly and screams as several officers hold him down. He is told “too late,” the video shows.

Bronstein screams and says “I can’t breathe” repeatedly before he falls silent, and the procedure continues, the video shows.

Gascón said six minutes pass from Bronstein’s last scream to when he is turned over “completely lifeless.”

He is sat up and officers tilt his head back, and the officers holding him are instructed to keep his airway open and his name is called, but Bronstein doesn’t respond, the video shows. CPR begins 13 minutes after his last scream, Gascón said.

The Los Angeles County Medical Examiner’s Office lists the cause of death as “acute methamphetamine intoxication during restraint by law enforcement.” A manner is undetermined.

Gascón said that “these officers had a legal duty to Mr. Bronstein” and that he was in their custody.

"We believe that they failed their duty, and their failure was criminally negligent, causing his death,” he said.

Family reacts to charges

Tim M. Schuler, an attorney who represents Baghalian, the nurse, in the civil suit, called the manslaughter charge against the nurse outrageous. He said Baghalian was there to do a legal blood draw.

"I am not aware of anyone who has opined that the nurse’s conduct in any way caused or contributed to this unfortunate death," Schuler said.

Criminal defense attorneys for the CHP officers and Baghalian didn’t appear to be listed in online court records Wednesday evening. Attorneys representing the CHP officers in the wrongful-death civil suit didn’t 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 represents the Bronstein family in the civil suit, said the family was glad charges have been brought, although he believes the defendants could have been charged with second-degree murder.

"It’s a little bittersweet. The family is glad, and we’re glad they’re finally being held accountable and being charged," Carrillo said.

The civil suit is pending.

Bronstein’s father, Edward Tapia, said at Wednesday’s news 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 made changes

CHP Commissioner Sean Duryee extended his condolences to Bronstein’s family in a statement Wednesday.

“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,” Duryee said. “Any death in custody is a tragedy that we take with upmost seriousness.”

The CHP said that after Bronstein's death, it updated policies to prevent officers from using techniques or transportation methods that carry risks of positional asphyxia.

The highway patrol also said it has increased training about medical distress and is exploring other ways to do chemical tests when people arrested on suspicion of DUI refuse them.