A California Highway Patrol sergeant and six California Highway Patrol officers were allowed to remain free on their own recognizance at their first court appearance on Wednesday on 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.
Superior Court Judge Armenui Amy Ashvanian ordered Sgt. Michael Little, 57; Dionisio Fiorella, 39; Dustin Osmanson, 41; Darren Parsons, 48; Diego Romero, 35; Justin Silva, 30; and Marciel Terry, 32; to return to the Downtown Los Angeles courtroom May 15 for arraignment on one count each of involuntary manslaughter and assault under the color of authority.
The charges stem from the March 31, 2020, death of 38-year-old Edward Bronstein, who can be heard on video repeatedly screaming, “I can’t breathe” while outside a nearby CHP station in Altadena.
A registered nurse, Arbi Baghalian, 42, is also set to be arraigned May 15 on one count of involuntary manslaughter.
At a news conference last week 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.”
Bronstein initially declined to have his blood drawn after he was stopped on suspicion of driving under the influence in Burbank, and in an 18-minute video recorded by a CHP sergeant, it shows an officer warning Bronstein that if he didn’t comply, he would be going “face down on the mat and we’re going to keep going,” the DA said.
“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,” while officers held him down as a medical professional drew a vial of blood from him. 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 DA 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.”
Gascón 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.
“We’re very happy that there’s some measure of justice by the filing of criminal charges. They took a human life, and they really don’t deserve the badge they carry,” said Luis Carrillo, an attorney representing Bronstein’s family members, in a federal lawsuit that was filed against the officers and the state of California.
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.
First published in the April 8 print issue of the Burbank Leader.