Attorneys for the mother of a 35-year-old man who died following a struggle with Anaheim police officers two years ago say there are parallels to the in-custody death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, which has sparked protests in that city and several others, including Los Angeles.
The attorneys had planned a news conference in front of Anaheim City Hall Friday morning to outline what they claim are lies told by the police officers involved in the March 2018 in-custody death of Christopher Eisinger. But they decided to postpone after seeing the violence unfold last night in Minnesota.
“We just feel it would be irresponsible to hold a press conference now with what is going on in Minnesota and America right now,” attorney Eric Dubin told City News Service. “The smarter move is to continue it a few days when the tensions ease up. It is such an important issue that needs to be addressed, but for another day.”
Dubin earlier said the video of Floyd’s death was similar to what happened to his client, but he added the notable difference is how Minnesota officials such as Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey have called for the arrests of the officers involved in Floyd’s death.
Dubin and his co-counsel Annee Della Donna were poised to go to trial in their wrongful death lawsuit against Anaheim in April, but it was postponed until October due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Anaheim’s attorneys continue to seek to have the lawsuit dismissed, Dubin said.
Mike Lyster, Anaheim’s chief communications officer, said the department’s officers did not use excessive force.
“Any loss of life in our city is tragic, and our hearts go out to the family,” Lyster said. But, he added, “At no time did our officers use excessive force. They handled a challenging situation professionally.”
Lyster noted the Orange County District Attorney’s Office came to the same conclusion, as did investigators who conducted an “extensive internal review.”
In December 2018, Senior Deputy District Attorney Jennifer Walker wrote a letter to city officials concluding the officers did not break any laws in the way they handled the incident.
“The evidence shows Eisinger died as a result of his decision to exert himself while suffering from hypertrophy and dilation of the heart, recent and chronic substance abuse, and a myriad of associated health problems,” Walker wrote.
On March 2, 2018, just after midnight, police were called about a report of an auto burglary, and when officers arrived, they saw Eisinger attempting to open a side gate of a residence and determined he matched the description of the suspect, Walker said. He appeared to be holding a metal pipe, which he dropped as he ran away, Walker said.
Police said Eisinger “violently” resisted arrest and said “Just shoot me” during a struggle as they tried to subdue him, Walker said. The officers also alleged Eisinger tried to grab one of the officer’s Taser as they wrestled with him, Walker said.
They claimed he said, “Sorry, it’s so fun,” during the struggle. They also alleged he was “exerting unusual strength” and appeared to be on drugs, Walker said.
During a five-minute struggle with the officers, Eisinger fell unconscious at some point, Walker said. He was rushed to a hospital and later was pronounced dead on March 10, 2018.
Attorneys for his family argue that their client never had a weapon and that the metal pipe was actually a party favor. Eisinger died as seven officers piled on him while he was hog-tied, Dubin said.
“They forcefully held his head down onto the concrete fracturing decedent’s cheekbone, nose and crushing his eye socket,” the attorneys alleged in court papers.
Eisinger’s “airway was compromised, causing him to go into respiratory distress for a long enough period of time to stop his heart, called positional asphyxiation,” the attorneys wrote.
The officers failed to render any aid as they waited eight minutes for an ambulance, Dubin said. Paramedics managed to revive him at the scene, but the delay in CPR probably led to his death, Dubin and Della Donna allege.
An Orange County coroner’s office pathologist concluded Eisinger died of “sudden cardiac arrest due to occlusive coronary altherosclerosis and effects of methamphetamine,” according to Walker. “The manner of death was determined to be accidental.”
Eisinger had methamphetamine in his system, Walker said.
“It did show a minor amount of methamphetamine, but it was not enough to kill him or cause a heart attack,” Della Donna said.
Eisinger had an enlarged heart, but “30% of the population has an enlarged heart and they don’t have heart attacks,” Della Donna said, adding the family is in the process of having its pathologist conduct an autopsy.
Eisinger had a college education and worked as a supervisor at a grocery store in Las Vegas, when he fell into substance abuse issues, Della Donna and Dubin said.
The day before he struggled with police, Eisinger had texted his mother to say he wanted to start going back to church with her and resume seeing a drug counselor, the attorneys said.
It’s unclear what happened the night he encountered police, Dubin said.
“Somebody was chasing Chris from a mobile home park, and we don’t know why Chris was hiding from that person in a backyard when someone called police to say someone was hiding in their backyard,” Dubin said. “Chris took off and that’s how this whole thing started.”
Lyster said Eisinger “showed no signs of skull or throat injuries, according to the autopsy report. Sadly, he died from exerting himself amid heart issues and recent and past drug use.”
Lyster added, “We know police issues are a matter of public interest. But every incident is unique and must be looked at on its own. The Anaheim Police Department embraces critical review, and has done so in this incident. The findings stand on their own.”
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