An Orange County jury on Thursday found Anaheim police used unreasonable force and caused the death of a man who died after officers held his body down while trying to arrest him in 2018.
The family of Christopher Eisinger, 35, was awarded $2,235,000 through the jury’s decision, several months after they held a news conference outside Anaheim City Hall in a rallying call for justice. They spoke out publicly in the wake of the George Floyd’s killing, which the family’s attorneys have likened to Eisinger’s death. But no criminal charges have ever been filed in the Orange County case.
“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,” said Anna Della Donna, a lawyer representing his family.
On March 2, 2018, an officer responding to a reported vehicle burglary at about 12:01 a.m. spotted Eisinger trying to open the side gate of a home, according to a report from the O.C. District Attorney’s Office. Within two minutes of the officer seeing Eisinger, officers had taken him down, according to video released by the DA’s office. Less than five minutes after that, Eisinger was unconscious.
Authorities have also said police were responding to a report about a man in a woman’s backyard when the encounter between officers and Eisinger occurred.
In December 2018, the DA’s office announced it would not be pursuing criminal charges against the officers involved in Eisinger’s arrest. He died days after the encounter with police, during which he lost consciousness and was unresponsive for several minutes. An autopsy reported his cause of death to be cardiac arrest as a result of coronary artery disease and effects of methamphetamine.
But his parents sued the city of Anaheim for wrongful death and negligence. On Thursday, a jury sided with Eisinger’s family in deciding that police did use unreasonable force and caused his death.
Meanwhile, the city has continued to deny that officers were at fault. Like local prosecutors, city officials have said Eisinger struggled with officers and they used reasonable force to restrain him.
“We respectfully disagree with the outcome,” said Mike Lyster, a spokesman for the city of Anaheim. “At all times, our officers acted responsibly and in their duty to uphold public safety. At no time did they use force that could be seen as excessive for the challenging situation they faced.”
During the first minute of released body cam footage, an officer gets out of his car to approach Eisinger, and after a few seconds, Eisinger starts running and leads him on a foot chase.
The DA’s office only released video from three officers although at least six were involved.
The partial footage shows another officer also start running after Eisinger, who begins running toward a home in the neighborhood.
“Eisinger then turned toward the porch, spun around, faced Officer Warner and fell back on the porch,” Senior Deputy District Attorney Jennifer Walker wrote in the December 2018 report from the DA’s office. “Officer Warner placed a knee on Eisinger’s sternum and ordered him to ‘Stay down.'”
After Eisinger struggles with officers for about a minute, one of them places handcuffs on one of his hands, according to prosecutors. An officer tells Eisinger to stop reaching for his Taser.
The video shows at least five officers with their bodies over Eisinger, although the angles of the footage make it difficult to see how they’re restraining him.
“Did you need help with his arm over there?” one of the officers asks another at one point.
Eisinger can be heard making groaning and gargling noises while the officers hold him down and repeatedly tell him to stop resisting. At least four minutes after they start restraining him, one of the officers instructs the others: “Cuff him up and check him.”
“Let’s send him up. Roll him up,” another officer says.
The officers then lift up Eisinger’s upper body, which appears lifeless, his limbs limp, his eyes shut and his face sweaty. One of the officers holds up his body from behind, resting his hand on Eisinger’s forehead. Another reaches over and presses two of his fingers against the side of his neck, trying to check his pulse.
After about a minute holding up his body, one of the officers asks: “Can you put his legs out?”
The officers then pull Eisinger’s legs out from underneath his body, taking him out of a sitting position. One them tells the others: “Let’s just check on, uh, on his vitals — when we get a chance.”
They drag his limp body over a porch step and carry him to the home’s front yard, where they rest the lower half of his body on the ground while multiple officers try checking his pulse again.
In the DA’s report, which found officers were not at fault for the man’s death, Senior Deputy DA Walker wrote that Eisinger had been “sweating profusely,” was “unresponsive” and appeared unconscious with a “faint pulse.” None of the officers attempted to perform CPR.
“The reckless indifference for life is stunning,” Eric Dubin, an attorney for the Eisinger family, said in June of last year, referring to how officers did not attempt to resuscitate him.
While on the front lawn, one of the officers shouts to Eisinger: “Have you used any drugs? Have you used any drugs?” None of them say anything else to Eisinger. The officers then discuss Eisinger’s pulse, one saying Eisinger’s not breathing anymore while others reassure each other that he is.
Nine minutes after the officers approached him, a fire truck pulls up and first responders walk toward the scene. They start performing CPR within two minutes of arriving.
An officers walks up to the medics and tells one of them: “He was resisting us, about four of us. Then he went out. He just went out. He’s been like this.”
“He’s got a pulse. Everything just seems a little bit labored,” the officer says.
Soon after, one of the medics asks another officer, “What happened exactly?” The officer responds that they were “just kinda holding him down” and Eisinger was “not complying.”
The medic asks if Eisinger was hit in the head or anywhere else on his body, and the officer tells him that he wasn’t. “We were just taking him down, rolled him over on his stomach,” the officer says.
Just 10 seconds before the clip ends, one of the medics says, “No pulse. CPR started.”
Donna, attorney for the Eisinger family, said the darkness of night made the video pretty unclear, limiting how much could be seen of the events leading up to Eisinger’s death.
“We had to rely upon body-worn cameras on a dark porch late at night — we didn’t have good footage,” Donna said. “But the jury was able to look at those body-worn cameras and listen to the sounds of Christoper saying, ‘I can’t breathe.’ And the jurors got it.”
Eisinger’s mother said her lawyers proved that the officers’ negligence killed her son. She hopes O.C. DA Todd Spitzer may consider criminal charges since former DA Tony Rackauckas didn’t file any.
“And I just want to clear his name at all costs,” Katrina Eisinger said of her son.