A federal judge has unsealed a video taken by the California Highway Patrol that captures the death of Edward Bronstein, a 38-year-old man who was in their custody following a March 2020 traffic stop in Los Angeles County.
Bronstein is heard repeatedly telling officers, “I can’t breathe,” while pinned on the ground.
Those three words would tug at the world’s conscience less than two months later when repeated by George Floyd before his death while being restrained by Minneapolis police.
Floyd’s killing in May 2020 sparked national and global protests against police brutality and racial injustices, spurring a national reckoning over the way law enforcement treats Black Americans. The officer who killed Floyd, Derek Chauvin, was convicted of murder in April 2021.
The CHP video was released for use in a federal wrongful death lawsuit brought by Bronstein’s family against the state of California, CHP and individual officers who were on scene when Bronstein died. No officers have been charged in connection with Bronstein’s death.
The decision to unseal the video Tuesday was made because “the public’s interest in the conduct of its peace officers outweighs other interests and any risk of particularized harm,” US Magistrate Judge John McDermott explained in his order.
The lawsuit, filed in the Central District of California, alleges officers used “excessive and objectively unreasonable” force against Bronstein, who was “unarmed, restrained, and surrounded by uniformed peace officers.” That excessive force “was also a result of the negligent employment, negligent retention, and negligent supervision” of the officers by the CHP, the lawsuit says.
The lawsuit seeks unspecified compensatory damages and requests a jury trial.
The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office tells CNN it is reviewing the case, and CHP declined to comment, citing ongoing litigation.
Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office did not reply to CNN’s request for comment.
Luis Carillo, an attorney representing Bronstein’s family, told CNN in a statement the officers who restrained him had no “reverence for human life.”
“EVEN after he said he would ‘willingly’ obey the officers STILL BRUTALIZED HIM ANYWAY,” Carillo said. “NOBODY should die this way. The family will always suffer the loss of love of Edward.”
Bronstein said he couldn’t breathe several times, video shows
After the early morning traffic stop on March 31, 2020, the lawsuit alleges, Bronstein was taken into custody and transferred to the CHP Altadena Station where officers attempted to take a blood sample at the garage area of the station.
At the start of the nearly 18-minute video, Bronstein is placed on his knees by two officers while handcuffed behind his back. At least five uniformed officers are visible during various parts of the video.
Bronstein expresses multiple times that he will comply and questions why police officers are taking his blood sample.
“Have a seat and provide your arm. This is your last opportunity. Otherwise, you’re going face down on the mat, and we’re going to keep on going,” an officer is heard saying.
Bronstein agrees but expresses some hesitancy by asking for “a minute,” and is heard saying “I can’t do it” when almost immediately officers bring him face down to the mat. Bronstein is seen screaming and crying while five uniformed officers are restraining him. One officer is seen appearing to place his knee onto Bronstein’s neck, and Bronstein is heard repeatedly telling officers, “I’ll do it willingly.”
Less than a minute later, Bronstein says a combination of “I can’t breathe” and “let me breathe” at least 12 times within a 30-second span.
Several uniformed officers tell him to stop moving and an off-camera voice is heard saying, “The more you move, the worse it’s going to be bro.”
Bronstein then yells out, “Put your leg down! I can’t breathe!” He gradually stops speaking and can only be heard making grunting noises. About three minutes into the video, Bronstein appears to stop moving.
For several minutes, officers and what appears to be a medical professional are seen in the video continuing to check Bronstein for any sign of life while continuing to take his blood sample.
More than 12 minutes into the video, officers are instructed by an off-camera voice to “uncuff him.” At the 14-minute mark, officers on site are still checking Bronstein for signs of life.
“Is that a pulse? … Is he breathing? … If he’s got a pulse and he’s not breathing, he still needs rescue,” the same off-camera voice is heard saying.
During the last three minutes of the video, the medical professional and officers are seen administering medical aid to Bronstein, who appears unresponsive.
The Los Angeles County Medical Examiner-Coroner’s office later determined Bronstein died from “acute methamphetamine intoxication during restraint by law enforcement.” It listed the manner of death as “undetermined.”
The trial date in the federal lawsuit is scheduled for December 13, court documents show.