The family of a 35-year-old man killed following a struggle with Anaheim police in March filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the city Thursday.
The lawsuit filed in Orange County Superior Court by the family of Christopher Eisinger also alleges assault and battery, negligence and a violation of the Bane Act.
Eisinger encountered police the evening of March 2 as they responded to a call of possible break-ins to a home and several vehicles. Police said officers responding to the call spotted Eisinger in a backyard in the 1300 block of South East Gates Street, and a foot chase ensued to the 3000 block of West Ball Road.
Police reported in March that he “violently” resisted by kicking and ripping his arms away. Officers used “control holds and physical force” to restrain him.
Eisinger had a criminal history of drug use and resisting arrest, according to court records.
Eisinger was taken to West Anaheim Medical Center initially and was later moved to Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian, where he was disconnected from life support after he was declared brain dead March 10.
The family filed a claim with the city, but the city has not yet responded, attorneys for the Eisingers said. The city has also denied requests for evidence from body-worn cameras of the officers involved in the arrest.
“The lack of transparency is becoming a real problem in preventing the family from getting any closure or answers, so we’re hopeful the filing of this wrongful death lawsuit will expedite the family’s getting closure that they deserve,” attorney Eric Dubin said. “The police department has the answers in 13 body-worn cameras and they have not released any of them for eight months, and the truth lies in those body-worn cameras, and this mother needs to find out what happened to their son that day.”
Eisinger’s mother, Katrina, said, “I don’t want to have to guess or assume what happened. If they know what happened then I should know what happened.”
Despite Eisinger’s troubles with the law and drugs, he was loved by his family and friends, his mother said.
“He was great, he was a hard worker,” Katrina Eisinger said. “He was fun to be around. Now, admittedly, he had come into hard times… but he was putting his life together, kept in touch with his family and was starting to go back to church to get his life back on track.
“He had a daughter and people who cared about him,” Eisinger said. “He wasn’t just somebody they can do this to and forget about it.”
Katrina Eisinger rejected any characterization that her son responded violently to police.
“I know he didn’t have a weapon,” she said. “He wasn’t violent. In fact, that’s what his friends remember about him. That wasn’t the Chris I knew. It wasn’t something he would do.”
Attorney Annee Della Donna said about a half-dozen officers pushed the suspect onto his stomach with one officer allegedly saying to keep him down “until he stops moving and wears himself out.”
“That’s absolutely against any police protocol anywhere,” Della Donna said. “If you hold someone down too long and compress their airways they will go into cardiac arrest and die.”
Dubin said, “Chris’ final word was `breathe.’ ”
An emergency room doctor jotted down a note that one of the officers who brought Eisinger in said, “He had to be held down with his head to the concrete because he was wiggling,” Della Donna said. “You know that if she wrote that down it was exactly what he told her.”
Dubin argued that the officer’s observation “was an admission by the officer that there was no resistance or fighting from Chris. It was a man trying to live, to breath with upward of six officers piled up on top of him… There was absolutely no safety risk to the officers or anyone around. This is a killing that never should have happened.”
Eisinger’s face was “fractured in three places and his eye socket was compressed so much his eyeball was coming out of the socket,” Della Donna said.
Della Donna argued that the police have no right to withhold the body-worn camera evidence because the cameras were acquired with a grant from the state.
“They don’t own the cameras, they are the public’s evidence, not the police evidence,” Della Donna said.
The attorneys also said that Eisinger told the officers “don’t shoot me” before he was taken down.
“At that point you handcuff him, you don’t pile on five deep until he stops breathing,” Dubin said.
An Anaheim spokeswoman said the city was considering whether to respond.