California to Pay  Million for Man’s Death in Police Custody

California is set to pay $24 million after reaching a settlement with the family of Edward Bronstein, who died in police custody three years ago after repeatedly yelling, “I can’t breathe,” while an officer knelt on his back, lawyers said on Tuesday.

California Highway Patrol officers pulled over Mr. Bronstein, who was 38, on March 31, 2020, believing that he was driving under the influence of a drug, and they then tried to draw his blood. When he asked why they needed a sample, they threw him face down on a mat, video footage showed. After being pinned for several minutes, he appeared to lose consciousness and was pronounced dead by paramedics later that morning.

“There was justice in the civil case — now we want justice with the criminal case,” said Luis Carillo, one of five lawyers helping represent Mr. Bronstein’s family. “We want them to pay in jail for taking a human life. These officers had no reverence for human life. They killed an innocent man.”

In March, seven highway patrol officers and one nurse linked to the case were charged in Los Angeles County with involuntary manslaughter. They have pleaded not guilty.

As part of the settlement, Vital Medical Services will also be required to pay a portion of the $24 million, though most of it will fall to the state of California, lawyers said.

The civil rights settlement is among the largest of its kind, lawyers said. In March 2021, the City of Minneapolis agreed to pay $27 million to the family of George Floyd, the Black man whose death just weeks after Mr. Bronstein’s set off months of protests.

The California attorney general’s office and Vital Medical Services did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Mr. Bronstein was about five minutes from the home where he lived with his father in Burbank, Calif., when California Highway Patrol officers pulled him over.

Officers gave him a breathalyzer test, which showed that he was under the legal alcohol limit, but they suspected that he was under the influence of a drug and obtained a warrant to draw his blood, according to a police report.

They placed him in handcuffs and took him to the parking lot of a patrol station near Pasadena to take his blood, according to the police and autopsy reports.

His daughter, Brianna Palomino, said her father had been terrified of needles and that was most likely why he had initially hesitated when the officers ordered him to put out his arm. Video footage shows that he then said he would cooperate before officers grabbed him and forced him down on the mat.

“Please don’t,” Mr. Bronstein said, repeating over and over again that he would cooperate.

“It’s too late,” one of the officers said. For nearly two minutes, Mr. Bronstein screamed and gasped, telling the officers at least a dozen times, “I can’t breathe.”

An autopsy report said Mr. Bronstein died of “acute methamphetamine intoxication during restraint by law enforcement” and that the manner of death was “undetermined” in part because of the presence of the drug in his system.

Mr. Bronstein’s death prompted the highway patrol to change its policies to prevent officers “from using techniques or transport methods that involve a substantial risk of positional asphyxia,” the agency said, according to The Associated Press. Additional training was also ordered for uniformed officers.

In September 2021, Gov. Gavin Newsom of California signed into law numerous sweeping police reforms, including one that bans law enforcement agencies from using certain restraint and transportation methods that pose a risk of positional asphyxia, or the inability to breathe because of the body’s position.

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