Video shows dying LA DUI suspect pinned down after refusing to give blood for fear of needles

Criminal justice professor says ‘officers demonstrated callous disregard for value of human life’

Gustaf Kilander
Washington, DC
Thursday 17 March 2022 21:19 GMT
Edward Bronstein death: Police pin down man who refused to give blood for fear of needles

Video has emerged of the death of a man who died in the custody of the California Highway Patrol (CHP) after being pinned down by officers when he refused to give a blood sample.

Edward Bronstein, a 38-year-old father from Southern California , died as officers tried to take the blood sample on 31 March 2020. Mr Bronstein hesitated to comply because of his fear of needles, his family has said.

A video filmed by a CHP sergeant lasting almost 18 minutes was released on Tuesday following a court order.

Both Mr Bronstein and George Floyd, who died in police custody in Minneapolis less than two months later, repeatedly told officers “I can’t breathe” as they were pinned to the ground.

The murder of Mr Floyd sparked nationwide racial justice protests and the eventual sentencing of the officer who knelt on his neck to more than two decades behind bars.

Mr Bronstein’s family has sued the officers involved in the traffic stop alleging that excessive force was used and that his civil rights were violated.

The family is also calling for the officers to be criminally charged by the Los Angeles County district attorney.

The LA County coroner ruled that Mr Bronstein’s cause of death was “acute methamphetamine intoxication during restraint by law enforcement”.

Bronstein family lawyer Luis Carrillo said that “when the nation was in an uproar over the George Floyd tragedy, we had no idea this had also happened to Mr Bronstein”.

“The matter remains under review,” the LA County District Attorney’s Office said.

Bowling Green State University criminal justice Professor Philip Stinson, an expert on police behaviour and misconduct, said, “in my view, the officers demonstrated a callous disregard for the value of human life and their actions should be investigated as potentially being criminal conduct”.

While the state attorney general’s office is representing the officers in the federal lawsuit, they have referred press requests to CHP.

CHP spokesperson Shanelle Gonzalez said the agency is not commenting on the case because of the pending litigation.

In September of last year, California’s Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom signed legislation banning the use by law enforcement of certain holds that puts suspects in a facedown position, as that kind of action has led to multiple unintended deaths.

The change in legislation came after the death of Mr Bronstein and was aimed at expanding the state’s ban on chokeholds that was instituted after the 25 May 2020 murder of Mr Floyd in Minnesota.

Dr Stinson added that while the dangers are well known, in this case, police had a mat prepared, making it seem “like this was a routine occurrence for the officers, that they would take someone to the mat face down to gain compliance in order to get what they want”.

He noted that what the officers said in the footage suggests that they wanted “to teach somebody a lesson – ‘Well, if you’re not going to comply with what we want you to do, we’re going to do this the hard way and it’s going to be painful for you’”.

“It seemed that they were treating the incident as if the man was pretending to be unconscious. It did not seem to register with the officers that there was a medical emergency for many, many minutes,” Dr Stinson said.

Family members have said that they think it was Mr Bronstein’s fear of needles that led him to hesitate to comply when officers wanted to take a blood sample.

In the footage, an officer can be heard telling Mr Bronstein that they have a court order — something Mr Carrillo sees as doubtful.

“This is your last opportunity,” one officer said, telling Mr Bronstein to sit down for the sample. “Otherwise you’re going face down on the mat and we’re gonna keep on going.”

“I’ll do it willingly! I’ll do it willingly, I promise!” Mr Bronstein shouts as the officers push him to the ground. But at least five officers continue to hold him down.

The lawsuit claims that they put their knees on his back as he screams “I’ll do it! I’ll do it! I promise!”

“It’s too late,” one officer responds.

Before the blood sample is taken, Mr Bronstein yells “I can’t breathe!” and “I can’t!” about eight times. He screams for help as the officers continue to restrain him.

“Stop yelling!” one officer shouts in response.

John Jay College of Criminal Justice police studies professor Eugene O’Donnell, said, without blaming the officers, that police agencies need to make it clear that their officers cannot engage in confrontations like this except in worst-case scenarios.

“This is just an utterly explosive potential situation,” the professor said. “If they’re not compliant, no longer can the police be having these wrestling matches with people because the consequences are deemed to far out-risk any benefit.”

Mr Bronstein’s screams become lower and he eventually grows quiet. A medical worker continues to draw blood from the unresponsive Mr Bronstein, with officers still restraining him.

They note that he may not have a pulse and does not appear to be breathing. The officers and the medical professional slap Mr Bronstein’s face, saying “Edward, wake up”.

They begin to perform CPR more than 11 minutes after Mr Bronstein can last be heard yelling.

An attorney for the medical professional said the firm that employs him was “heartbroken” to learn of the death. Lawyer John Kelly said in a statement that the company doesn’t participate in the arrest or physical handling of anyone, and just takes blood samples for testing. They are not present to provide medical clearance or evaluation, and most do not have that training.

He added that that remained true in this case and that when Mr Bronstein became unresponsive, the medical worker “provided what help he could under the circumstances”.

Another video, more than 12 minutes long, shows the officers and paramedics trying to revive Mr Bronstein.

One officer tells the paramedics that Mr Bronstein had been complaining of “shortness of breath”.

“When we rolled him back over, he was turning blue,” he said.

“Everybody’s on camera,” someone then reminds the group.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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