A 35-year-old transient who died following a scuffle with Anaheim police was high on methamphetamine and did not die of positional asphyxia, but of an enlarged heart, an attorney for the city told jurors Thursday in a lawsuit against Anaheim.
Christopher Eisinger, who was 35, got into a struggle with Anaheim police just after midnight on March 2, 2018, and died March 10, 2018.
Eisinger ran away from a police sergeant, who was responding to a call of a suspect breaking into cars and then pulling on the door of a family’s home, said Jill Williams, who is defending the city in the lawsuit filed by Eisinger’s parents.
Eisinger was carrying a long tube that pops confetti, but the sergeant couldn’t tell that at first glance, so his gun was drawn, Williams said. Eisinger dropped it when he ran away, so it wasn’t a factor in the arrest, Williams said.
Eisinger ran about 150 yards to a dead end street near Ball Road and ended up on a porch, where the struggle took place, Williams said.
The police who responded to the call implemented the city’s Platform, Efficiency and Proficiency, or PEP, method while trying to take the suspect into custody, Williams said.
“It’s more focused on capturing a suspect as opposed to combating a suspect,” Williams said, adding the method emphasizes minimizing injury to the officers and suspect.
“The goal of the PEP method is to take someone into custody as quickly as possible,” she said.
“All of the officers that night who interacted with Chris Eisinger did exactly as they were trained. They acted objectively, reasonably… They acted consistent with Anaheim Police Department policy, which mirrors California law.”
Police took about five minutes to subdue Eisinger, Williams said.
Eisinger “was so strong” he managed to “kick a grown man off of him,” Williams said.
“You are not going to see any evidence that any officer used any type of force after he stopped resisting,” Williams said. “You’re not going to see five officers dog piled on top of Mr. Eisinger. You’re not going to see five officers putting their full body weight on Mr. Eisinger.”
The officers “were restrained, controlled, communicated with one another and repeatedly told Mr. Eisinger to stop resisting,” Williams said. “Mr. Eisinger was violent and out of control.”
At one point, Eisinger “grabbed the holster strap of one of the officers’ Taser,” Williams said, adding, “You’ll hear one of the officers telling him to let it go.”
She said Eisinger replied, “Then give it to me.”
She told the jurors the officers “never heard Mr. Eisinger say he couldn’t breathe.”
The first officer on scene radioed dispatchers during the struggle to call paramedics because they wanted to be prepared to care for Eisinger as quickly as possible, Williams said. Later, the sergeant asked the dispatchers to “expedite” the call to paramedics.
They put handcuffs on each arm and then worked to connect the restraints to avoid breaking Eisinger’s arm, Williams said.
When they had finally subdued Eisinger they put him in an upright position as the officers were trained to do, Williams said.
The officers, however, did not recognize Eisinger’s “agonal breathing,” and thought he had “burped” instead, Williams said.
The police chief at the time, Julian Harvey, recognized it when he viewed body-worn camera footage because he had lifeguard experience, Williams said.
Paramedics were able to revive Eisinger at the scene, but Williams rejected the suggestion from plaintiffs’ attorneys that Eisinger went breathless for several minutes.
She also rejected any suggestion that the 911 caller said Eisinger wasn’t the suspect. Williams said the caller did identify Eisinger as a suspect she saw at her back door.
Williams also cited the Orange County Coroner’s autopsy report that concluded Eisinger had an enlarged heart and that he suffered from 70% to 75% artery blockage.
The cause of death was sudden cardiac arrest due to coronary atherosclerosis and the effects of methamphetamine. Eisinger had methamphetamine and acetone in his system.
An expert for the plaintiffs is expected to testify that Eisinger died of asphyxia.