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Seven California officers charged with involuntary manslaughter over death of man who shouted ‘I can’t breathe’

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(LOS ANGELES) — Seven California Highway Patrol officers and a nurse have been charged with involuntary manslaughter nearly three years after the in-custody death of a man who was pulled over for a traffic stop in Los Angeles County and repeatedly said “I can’t breathe” before losing consciousness.

Edward Bronstein, 38, died on March 31, 2020, after the California Highway Patrol pulled him over while driving on the 5 Freeway in Burbank for suspicion of driving under the influence, prosecutors said.

He was taken into custody and brought to CHP’s Altadena Station, where officers attempted to take a blood sample. Six officers are accused of forcing Bronstein to the ground handcuffed and pinning him down by pressing their knees on his legs and neck while his blood was drawn, according to prosecutors. Bronstein repeatedly told officers he could not breathe before becoming unresponsive as the blood draw continued, body camera footage of the incident shows.

According to prosecutors, officers attempted CPR more than 13 minutes after Bronstein became unresponsive, but the father of five was later pronounced dead.

The criminal charges come after a “thorough review” of the incident, Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón said during a press briefing Wednesday.

“These officers had a legal duty to Mr. Bronstein,” Gascón said. “We believe that they failed their duty, and their failure was criminally negligent, causing his death.”

“Police accountability is essential to public safety,” he continued.

A sergeant and six officers were charged with one count each of involuntary manslaughter and one count of assault by an officer. Those charged were identified by the district attorney’s office as Dionisio Fiorella, 39; Michael Little, 57; Dustin Osmanson, 41; Darren Parsons, 48; Diego Romero, 35; Justin Silva, 30, and Marciel Terry, 32. They each face a maximum sentence of four years and eight months in prison if convicted, prosecutors said.

ABC News was unable to reach the officers for comment.

The registered nurse who did the blood draw, identified as 42-year-old Arbi Baghalian, was also charged with involuntary manslaughter. He faces a maximum sentence of four years in prison if convicted, prosecutors said.

An arraignment date has not been set, the district attorney’s office said.

In a statement to Los Angeles ABC station KABC-TV, CHP Commissioner Sean Duryee said he is “saddened that Mr. Bronstein died while in our custody and care.”

“Any death in custody is a tragedy that we take with utmost seriousness,” Duryee said in the statement. “I recognize this case will now move through the court system, and I respect the judicial process.”

Body camera footage from Bronstein’s death was released last year as part of the family’s lawsuit against CHP filed in November 2020.

Prosecutors played the 18-minute footage Wednesday while announcing the charges in the case, with Gascón warning it is “extremely graphic.”

“What ensued is difficult to watch and hear, as Mr. Bronstein pleads for his life,” Gascón said. “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.”

“Mr. Bronstein’s shrieks get softer until he is silent,” he continued.

Bronstein’s death came two months before George Floyd’s killing at the hands of Minneapolis police. Floyd was also heard repeating “I can’t breathe” in disturbing footage of the incident.

In an autopsy provided by the lawyer for Bronstein’s family, the LA coroner’s office ascribed his death to acute methamphetamine intoxication during restraint by law enforcement but wrote the manner of death was undetermined.

Bronstein’s father, Edward Tapia, said he was “glad” charges were brought over his son’s death, adding, “I think when you see the video you’ll understand.”

“What happened is just something I can’t bear with yet, even now,” he said during Wednesday’s press briefing. “I miss my son so much.”

The incident remains under investigation by CHP, prosecutors said. The sergeant and officers have been placed on administrative leave due to the charges, KABC reported.

ABC News did not immediately receive a response from the California Association of Highway Patrolmen, the union that represents CHP officers, for comment.

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