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“I Can’t Breathe!” – California Reaches Record $24 Million Civil Rights Settlement in Fatal Police Custody Incident Two Months Before George Floyd Uttered Same Plea

California authorities have reached a groundbreaking settlement in a case that has cast a spotlight on the use of excessive force by law enforcement. The resolution comes in response to the tragic death of Edward Bronstein, a 36-year-old man who died while in police custody in 2019. The agreement, which includes substantial financial compensation, serves as a significant step towards addressing systemic issues surrounding police accountability and promoting meaningful reform. A nurse and seven highway patrol officers have been charged with involuntary manslaughter in connection with Bronstein’s death.

The settlement, valued at $24 million, represents the largest payout of its kind by the state of California. Edward Bronstein’s family, devastated by his untimely death, has been at the forefront of demanding justice and accountability. The substantial financial compensation granted to them underscores the acknowledgment of the profound loss they have suffered and the imperative to hold law enforcement accountable for their actions.

Following a traffic stop for suspicion of DUI on March 31, 2020, Bronstein was taken into police custody. Family members have expressed that Bronstein had a fear of needles, offering a possible explanation for his initial reluctance to comply with the officers’ request to take a blood sample. Video footage, captured by a sergeant at the scene, reveals the distressing sight of several officers forcing a handcuffed Bronstein to the floor while he repeatedly pleads, “I’ll do it willingly! I’ll do it willingly, I promise!”

Despite his pleas, Bronstein is held face-down by six officers, with allegations suggesting that they placed their knees on his back. Desperate for assistance, Bronstein cries out, “I can’t breathe!” and “I can’t!” In response, an officer callously tells him to relax and stop resisting. As Bronstein’s voice grows faint and he falls silent, the officers continue to restrain him while a nurse proceeds to draw blood.

Only after realizing that Bronstein may not have a pulse and is unresponsive do the officers slap his face and implore him to wake up. More than 11 minutes after his desperate cries, they finally begin CPR. Tragically, Bronstein never regains consciousness and is subsequently pronounced dead.

This deeply distressing incident raises alarming questions about the use of excessive force and the failure of law enforcement to prioritize the well-being and safety of individuals in their custody. It highlights the urgent need for comprehensive police reform to address the systemic issues that perpetuate such tragic outcomes.

This case has shed light on broader concerns regarding the use of excessive force and the need for comprehensive reform in policing practices. The tragic events leading to Bronstein’s death have sparked important conversations about police training, the handling of individuals experiencing mental health crises, and the necessity for de-escalation tactics. The settlement sends a powerful message that the status quo of excessive force and the neglect of human rights will not go unchallenged.

While the settlement brings some measure of closure to Bronstein’s family, it also serves as a catalyst for change. The California Department of Justice, in collaboration with community organizations and activists, has committed to implementing substantial reforms aimed at preventing future tragedies and promoting accountability within law enforcement agencies. This includes enhancing officer training, implementing stricter use-of-force policies, and increasing transparency and oversight mechanisms to ensure law enforcement officers are held to the highest standards of professionalism and integrity.

The tragic death of Edward Bronstein serves as a stark reminder of the urgency to address the flaws in our justice system. The settlement reached in this case represents a significant milestone in the pursuit of justice, but it must be accompanied by a commitment to ongoing reform. By learning from these tragic incidents and working towards meaningful change, we can strive for a future where accountability, fairness, and respect for human life are the cornerstones of our law enforcement institutions. 

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