Attorneys for the mother of a 35-year-old man who died in a struggle with Anaheim police officers Wednesday said an expert hired by the city to testify in next month’s civil trial denied in a deposition that a knee on the neck of George Floyd did not cause his death.
The attorneys — Eric Dubin and Annee Della Donna — plan to release clips of the deposition to reporters at a news conference in front of Anaheim’s City Hall on Thursday.
The attorneys have been arguing there are many parallels between the death of Floyd, which led to protests throughout the nation and criminal charges against four police officers, and the death of Christopher Eisinger in March 2018.
Dr. Gary Vilke of UC San Diego said in a deposition that while he did not offer a formal opinion on Floyd’s death he observed that Floyd “certainly seemed to be moving air in and out very well for a period of time” as officers pinned him down. Vilke said he did not believe Floyd’s death was owed to “positional asphyxiation.”
Vilke is an expert often hired by police agencies involved in in-custody death lawsuits as he has authored a study on positional asphyxiation. Vilke testified in the criminal case against two Fullerton police officers charged and later acquitted of the death of transient Kelly Thomas.
Dubin and Della Donna are representing Eisinger’s mother, Katrina, in the lawsuit, which is set to go to trial in March.
“It’s pretty foolish to go there,” Dubin said of Vilke’s opinion on Floyd’s death.
Dubin said the issue of Floyd’s death will likely be a part of questioning of potential jurors in the civil trial. It’s not clear if the issue will come up in the trial, he said.
“They’re going to take the position post-Floyd that not only having five officers on top of (Eisinger) did not kill him when he said he couldn’t breathe, Chris was lying” when he protested he had trouble drawing a breath during the struggle with police, Della Donna said. “It’s so offensive, especially after George Floyd.”
Della Donna said Vilke did acknowledge during his deposition that the officers had breathing bags in the trunks of their cars and if they had used them Eisinger could have survived.
Another issue to likely factor into the trial will be allegations that while waiting eight minutes for paramedics to arrive on scene the officers did nothing to try to revive Eisinger, the attorneys said.
Mike Lyster, Anaheim’s chief communications officer, said, “Any loss of life in our city is tragic, and our hearts go out to the family.”
Lyster added that the city’s officers “responded to a call for help from a family fearing about someone in their backyard. At no time did our officers use excessive force. They handled a challenging situation professionally.”
Lyster noted that an internal review concluded there was no excessive force, and the Orange County District Attorney’s Office concluded the officers did not break the law.
“Sadly, based on the autopsy, Eisinger died from exerting himself amid underlying health issues,” Lyster said.
“We join so many in condemning the death of George Floyd and welcome the reflection it has brought. But every incident is unique and we reject any attempt to tie this 2018 incident to what we saw recently in Minneapolis in 2020. We embrace critical review, and this incident has been extensively looked at. We believe the findings stand on their own.”
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