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The family of a Black man who died after officers pinned him to the ground as they tried to arrest him, was reportedly awarded $2.27 million after a jury in California concluded police used unnecessary force during the 2018 confrontation.
The jurors had been reportedly tasked with deciding whether the victim was fighting to breathe during his struggle with police, as his family claimed, or whether he was physically resisting arrest, as the city countered. The panel reportedly deliberated for about five and a half days before reaching the verdict and determining that the officers were 78% responsible for his death, and he was responsible for the rest. The trial lasted six weeks.
The lawyer representing his family reportedly explained: “The officers in Anaheim detained Christopher Eisinger on a small porch area, and three of the officers used their knees and their body weight on his back, his neck, and his head — until they suffocated him and killed him.” Authorities at the time were originally responding to reports of a vehicle burglary.
According to a report from the Orange County District Attorney’s Office, an officer first spotted Eisinger, who had a history of drug use and mental illness, trying to open the side gate of a home shortly after midnight on Mar. 2, 2018. The then 37-year-old tried to flee from police, but they chased him and ultimately managed to tackle him to the ground. Less than five minutes later, Eisinger was unconscious. Days later, he was dead. According to an autopsy, his cause of death was cardiac arrest as a result of coronary artery disease and effects of methamphetamine.
Expectedly, the Orange County District Attorney’s Office cleared the officers of any criminal wrongdoing. However, Eisinger’s parents sued the city of Anaheim for wrongful death and negligence. Jurors recently sided with Eisinger’s family, concluding the officers’ use of force contributed to his death. They did not, however, find officers were negligent in providing medical aid to Eisinger following the violent struggle.
During the trial, one of the attorneys who represented Eisinger’s mother told the court that officers wrestled Eisinger onto his back and then knelt down on his chest during the 2018 arrest attempt. Officers then flipped Eisinger over, and one of them placed his knees on Eisinger’s lower back and neck. During a press conference earlier this year, the family compared it to the death of George Floyd. Back in court, the attorney argued that Eisinger similarly pleaded with officers, telling juror’s the man’s final words were “I can’t breathe.”
The struggle between Eisinger and the officers was captured on the officers’ body-worn cameras and the remarks made by Eisinger were difficult to hear clearly on the recordings, the Orange County Register reported. Meanwhile, the city has continued to defend the officers, with local prosecutors and city officials arguing Eisinger struggled with officers and that they used reasonable force to restrain him.
A spokesman for Anaheim reportedly said in a statement that the city “respectfully disagree(s) with the outcome” of the trial.