By: Terri Vermeulen Keith
LOS ANGELES – A California Highway Patrol sergeant and six CHP officers pleaded not guilty Friday to charges stemming from 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 just over three years ago.
Sgt. Michael Little, 58; Dionisio Fiorella, 39; Dustin Osmanson, 42; Darren Parsons, 48; Diego Romero, 35; Justin Silva, 30; and Marciel Terry, 32, are charged with one count each of involuntary manslaughter and assault under the color of authority in connection with the March 31, 2020, death of Edward Bronstein.
The 38-year-old man can be heard on video repeatedly screaming, “I can’t breathe!” while outside a nearby CHP station in Altadena.
A registered nurse, Arbi Baghalian, 43, pleaded not guilty to one count of involuntary manslaughter.
Bronstein’s parents and children will receive a record $24 million civil rights settlement from the state of California, attorneys for the family announced last month. It marked the largest civil rights settlement of its kind by the state of California, and the second largest nationally since Minneapolis paid $27 million in the case of George Floyd, who also died in custody three years ago, said Annee Della Donna, an attorney for Bronstein’s family.
At a news conference in March announcing the charges, Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón said, “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.”
The district attorney said 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 released after the case was filed, 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 Los Angeles County coroner’s office concluded that Bronstein died of “acute methamphetamine intoxication during restraint by law enforcement,” according to the CHP.
The eight remain free on their own recognizance. They are due back in a downtown Los Angeles courtroom July 25, when a date is scheduled to be set for a hearing to determine whether there is sufficient evidence to allow the case against the eight to proceed to trial.
The sergeant and officers could each face up to four years and eight months in state prison if convicted as charged, while the nurse could face a maximum of four years in prison, according to Gascón.