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Family of Black man awarded $2M in California police death

April 30, 2021 GMT

ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) — Police in Anaheim, California used excessive force that contributed to the death of an unarmed homeless man during a violent struggle, a jury decided Thursday, according to a newspaper report.

Jurors in the civil trial awarded $2.27 million to the parents of Christopher Eisinger, a 35-year-old Black man who died in 2018 after being pinned to the ground by officers investigating reports of someone stealing from cars, the Orange County Register reported.

“There is no reason Chris Eisinger had to die,” said Eric Dubin, an attorney who represented Eisinger’s mother. He called the jury award “justice for Chris.”

Mike Lyster, a spokesman for Anaheim, said in a statement that the city “respectfully disagree(s) with the outcome” of the trial.

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“At all times, our officers acted responsibly in their duty to uphold public safety” and did not use excessive force, Lyster said.

The jurors did not find that officers were negligent in providing medical aid to Eisinger following the violent struggle, and determined that Eisinger was also negligent, though not as much as police.

The Orange County District Attorney’s Office previously cleared the officers of any criminal wrongdoing.

The newspaper said jurors were tasked with deciding whether Eisinger was fighting to breathe during his struggle with police, as his family claimed, or whether he was physically resisting arrest, as the city countered.

Officers responding to reports of someone trying to break into cars encountered Eisinger, who had a history of drug use and mental illness. Eisinger ran, and officers chased him before catching up and pinning him down.

During the trial, Dubin told jurors that an officer placed a knee on Eisinger’s sternum while he was on his back. Officers then flipped Eisinger over, Dubin said, and an officer placed his knees on Eisinger’s lower back and neck.

Dubin told jurors that Eisinger’s last words were “I can’t breathe.” The struggle was captured on the officers’ body-worn cameras and the remarks made by Eisinger were difficult to hear clearly on the recordings, the Register said.

Attorneys representing the city defended the officers’ actions, telling jurors that police followed training calling for them to use the least amount of force possible to capture a suspect rather than “combating” them. They noted that Eisinger had methamphetamine in his system, and said ignored officers commands to stop resisting.

The verdict came the week after a criminal conviction against Derek Chauvin, the Minneapolis police officer who killed George Floyd, drew national attention. Bystander video of Floyd’s death caught him gasping and saying “I can’t breathe” as Chauvin pressed a knee to his neck for more than nine minutes. The death sparked demonstrations across the country and led many cities and states to revisit police policies and use of force.