A report released this week by Orange County District Attorney’s office on the death of Christopher Eisinger closely mirrors initial statements by Anaheim police about the incident. Back in March, then-interim police chief Julian Harvey said no excessive force had been used by his officers in attempting to arrest the 35-year-old homeless man that month, countering claims of police brutality circulating online. The OCDA agreed in its brief, five-page report clearing officers of any legal wrongdoing
According to the OCDA’s investigation, Anaheim police responded to a report of a car burglary on Mar. 2, shortly after midnight. Sergeant Salvador Enriquez saw Eisinger trying to open a side gate to a home when he arrived on scene. (The report doesn’t fully identify any officers but the Weekly obtained the names in a prior records request). Enriquez believed him to be the burglary suspect and exited his patrol car yelling, “Stop! Police! Stop!” But Eisinger took off running and dropped what appeared to be a metal pipe in his hands.
Officer Ryan Warner gave chase and tried to grab Eisinger near the driveway of a home, who turned and fell on the porch. The officer put a knee to his chest and ordered him to stay down. Other police assisted in the attempted arrest that followed, one they claimed Eisinger violently resisted with kicks. The struggle ensued for a few minutes with Eisinger loudly growling and grunting until suddenly falling silent, as can be seen and heard in body camera footage released by the OCDA.
Police sat Eisinger up and noted he had a weak pulse. When paramedics arrived on scene a few minutes later, they found him unconscious. They transferred Eisinger to West Anaheim Medical Center and, after his condition worsened, he ended up at Hoag Hospital in Newport Beach. Doctors diagnosed Eisinger with having a swollen, puffy eye, a fractured cheek bone and a sinus bone fracture. The family decided to pull the 35-year-old homeless man off of life support days after he suffered cardiac arrest at the scene.
Following an autopsy, a doctor with the coroner’s office found significant brain swelling but no visible skull fractures. She also concluded that Eisinger had no physical signs of trauma other than the swollen eye and determined the cause of death to have been accidental due to hardened arteries and meth use.
Eisinger’s mother filed a lawsuit last month against the city and its police department on the grounds that officers are liable for her son’s death. “The video supports what we’re saying in our wrongful death case,” attorney Eric Dubin tells the Weekly. “Somehow, someway, [Eisinger] wound up with so much pressure on his cheek and face that his eye basically popped out of his socket. His death is consistent with suffocation.”
Dubin notes that not all body cameras have been released and that medical records reportedly show an officer stating in comments to emergency room staff that Eisinger had been “wiggling” during the arrest. “When you have four to six people on top of you, you’re wiggling to breathe,” Dubin adds. “It’s almost like the DA’s report talks more about what didn’t happen than what did. In this situation, the use of what was deadly force is unjustified and unexplained at this point, still to the family.”
While the OCDA doesn’t address questions of civil liability, it sees Eisinger’s death differently. “Eisinger’s sudden cardiac arrest appears to have resulted from complications associated with heavy drug use,” the report concludes. “The officers interviewed states there were no punches, kicks, batons, Tasers, or other weapons used on Eisinger. There is no physical or documentary evidence to suggest otherwise.”
With that, the OCDA cleared Anaheim police officers of any criminal culpability.
As always, read the report in its entirety online.
Updated with comments from attorney Eric Dubin.
Gabriel San Román is from Anacrime. He’s a journalist, subversive historian and the tallest Mexican in OC. He also once stood falsely accused of writing articles on Turkish politics in exchange for free food from DönerG’s!