California officers charged in death of suspect who cried “I can’t breathe”

(Reuters) – Seven California Highway Patrol Officers have been charged in the March 2020 death of a suspect during a traffic stop after they pinned him to the ground while he screamed, “I can’t breathe,” before he lost consciousness and died, the prosecutor in Los Angeles said.

The officers along with a registered nurse face counts of involuntary manslaughter and assault in the death of 38-year-old Edward Bronstein in Burbank, California, prosecutors said.

Bronstein died of acute methamphetamine intoxication during restraint by law enforcement, according to the Los Angeles County Medical Examiner.

“These officers had a legal duty to Mr. Bronstein,” Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón said on Wednesday during a news conference. “We believe they failed their duty and their failure was criminally negligent, causing his death.”

It was not immediately clear whether the officers or the nurse had legal representation. The district attorney’s office could not be reached immediately for comment on Thursday.

The death of Bronstein, who was white, came less than two months before the death of George Floyd, a Black man who was pinned to the ground in Minneapolis by police officers as he pleaded, “I can’t breathe.” Floyd’s agonized words became a rallying cry during anti-racism protests against police brutality across the nation and around the world in the summer of 2020.

In the California traffic stop, two of the officers who were charged had pulled Bronstein over on Interstate 5 for suspected driving under the influence. Bronstein was then taken to a Highway Patrol parking lot where he initially refused to allow blood to be drawn from him. He finally complied after officers pushed him to the ground as he was handcuffed, Gascón said in the statement.

Several officers are accused of pinning Bronstein down with their knees while his blood was being drawn. While pinned, Bronstein repeatedly screamed, “I can’t breathe,” and begged for help before becoming unresponsive, the prosecutor said.

Bronstein was kept face down for about six more minutes. More than 13 minutes after his last screams, the officers attempted CPR, but Bronstein never regained consciousness and was later pronounced dead, Gascón said.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Chicago; Editing by Mark Porter)