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 death of George Floyd, which has sparked protests in several cities.
The attorneys held a news conference in front of Anaheim City Hall Monday to outline what they claim are lies told by the police officers involved in the in-custody death of Christopher Eisinger in March 2018.
When the video of Floyd’s death surfaced last month, Eisinger’s mother, Katrina, said, “People started blowing up my phone. People are not stupid. They kept saying isn’t this the same thing that happened to your son?”
Katrina Eisinger said another similar pattern was how police reacted after the death hit the news.
“Police maligned him and what he did in his past, which had nothing to do with what happened that night,” Katrina Eisinger told City News Service.
Before Monday’s news conference, city officials released a copy of the 911 call that drew police to the scene as well as the Orange County District Attorney’s Office report clearing the officers involved of criminal wrongdoing.
The 911 call, which was redacted to protect the identity of the caller, began with a woman saying, “There was a black guy in the back of my backyard.”
The dispatcher responded, “Is he still back there?”
“I don’t know,” the caller replied. “My husband is yelling at him, I woke him up and he was like standing in my back door… He’s still here in the back.”
After the dispatcher asked for the caller’s address, the caller said, “He’s going to break into the car… He like jumped the fence and he’s now in the front yard, trying to break into a car.”
Eisinger attorney Eric Dubin said the caller could not identify Eisinger in a photo later.
“It’s such an important issue in America right now,” Dubin said of his client’s death. “The video out of Minnesota is exactly what happened to my client.”
Dubin said the notable difference is how Minnesota officials such as Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey 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.”
Lyster added that, “Sadly, based on the autopsy, Eisinger died from exerting himself amid underlying health issues.”
Lyster challenged the assertion that Eisinger’s death was like Floyd’s.
“We join so many in condemning the death of George Floyd and welcome the reflection it has brought,” Lyster said. “But every incident is unique, and tying this 2018 incident to the events of the past two weeks is unwarranted. We embrace critical review, and this incident has been extensively reviewed. We believe the findings stand on their own.”
Katrina Eisinger said she was “livid” when she read the District Attorney’s report.
“Their standard is ridiculous,” Eisinger said of the standard for determining criminal culpability. “They are a legal gang, so, yes, I was livid when they said (no charges would be filed). If it were me, a private citizen, it would be manslaughter, it would be murder of some type, but with them it’s never anything.”
Katrina Eisinger said there were 13 body armor camera recordings of the incident, but she said she could not bring herself to watch them.
“I couldn’t watch it. It was too horrible,” she said. “To hear your son, your baby, who you vowed to protect, your body screaming, suffering, trying to get air, it’s just too horrifying. I honestly don’t know how George Floyd’s family looked at that video.”
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 police arrived they saw Eisinger attempting to open a side gate of a residence, 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.
They claimed he said, “Sorry, it’s so fun,” during the struggle, Walker said. They also alleged he was “exerting unusual strength” and appeared to be on drugs.
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 March 10, 2018.
Attorneys for his family, however, 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 said 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 said in court papers.
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 said.
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.
The family is in the process of having its pathologist conduct an autopsy, Della Donna said.
Eisinger 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.
“I work in the medical field and I had people who could help him,” Eisinger said.
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.”
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