ALAMEDA, Calif. (KRON) — The Alameda County District Attorney cleared three police officers of criminal wrongdoing for the in-custody death of Mario Gonzalez.
Gonzalez, 26, died after Alameda Police Department officers pinned him to the ground face-down and restrained him for several minutes on April 19, 2021.
Officers attempted to take Gonzalez into custody because he was suspected of being drunk in public, possessed bottles of stolen alcohol, and failed to show identification.
Gonzalez’s heart stopped beating after officers restrained him on the ground and placed him in handcuffs.
A coroner concluded that Gonzalez had a “toxic level” of methamphetamine in his system.
District Attorney Nancy O’Malley wrote that “evidence does not support criminal charges being filed against any law enforcement official related to this incident.”
Gonzalez’s family said the officers escalated what should have been a minor encounter with the unarmed man. His family also accused officers of using excessive force.
The family’s attorney, Julia Sherwin, said Gonzalez’s death, “would feel like drowning on dry land for him.”
Police officers initially approached Gonzalez because a neighbor had called 911 to report that a strange man was talking to himself and scaring the neighbor’s wife, according to a report released by the district attorney to KRON4 Friday.
Gonzalez was in a small park next to 802 Oak Street in Alameda.
The neighbor said the man was “right outside of his front yard and that his conduct was scaring his wife,” according to the report.
Alameda Police Department officer Eric McKinley was the first officer who arrived on scene.
“Officer McKinley began speaking with Mr. Gonzalez to determine his well-being and his identity,” the report wrote.
When officer McKinley asked Gonzalez for his name, the man replied, “Something Mario, that’s it.”
Officer McKinley said, “OK here is the plan. I got to identify you, so I know who I’m talkin’ to, make sure you don” have any warrants. OK? You come up with a plan, let me know you’re not going to be drinking in our parks over here. And then we can be on our merry way, OK?”
Gonzalez replied, “Merry way? Merry-go-round?”
After officer James Fisher arrived, the two officers spoke with Gonzalez more than nine minutes, according to the report.
“Mr. Gonzalez appeared to have trouble putting thoughts and sentenced together,” the report wrote.
Gonzalez appeared to be intoxicated, disoriented, and had stolen bottles of liquor with him, according to police.
The two police officers became concerned for their safety because the man repeatedly placed his hands in his pockets, according to the report.
“Based on criminal violations observed and for officer safety reasons, Officer McKinley and Officer Fisher attempted to detain Mr. Gonzalez by placing his hands behind his back and putting handcuffs on him. Mr. Gonzalez immediately began physically resisting,” the report wrote.
The officers attempted to place Gonzalez in handcuffs for nearly three minutes while he was still standing before they brought him to the ground.
“Mr. Gonzalez was lying face down with Officer McKinley and Officer Fisher struggling on top of him to get his arms behind his back and into handcuffs,” the report wrote.
A third officer arrived, officer Cameron Leahy, and also held Gonzalez on the ground by restraining his legs.
All three officers had activated their body worn cameras, and prosecutors reviewed the videos. Gonzalez can be heard in the videos making “several high-pitched groaning sounds,” the report writes.
“After three minutes and 39 seconds of restraining Mr. Gonzalez while handcuffs were on, Mr. Gonzalez became unresponsive,” the report wrote.
The officers realized that Gonzalez lost his pulse and called for paramedics. He was taken to a hospital where he was later pronounced dead.
Gonzalez is survived by a 4-year-old son, also named Mario.
Gonzalez’s family said the body camera video shows he struggled to breathe when the officers were on top of him.
His brother Gerardo Gonzalez, said, “At no point was he violent or out of control.”
“The video showed that he died on the ground with his face on the floor with officers on top of him. Anyone with common sense will ask like how does someone with no preexisting chronic medical conditions suddenly have a medical emergency at the age of 26 and die, just out of the blue,” the brother said.
Forensic pathologist Dr. Vivian Snyder concluded that Gonzalez died from multiple causes, primarily, “toxic effects of methamphetamine” in his blood.
Additional contributing causes were: “physiologic stress of altercation and restraint” inflicted by the officers, alcoholism, and morbid obesity, according to Snyder.
The Alameda County District Attorney’s report wrote, “Even without the interactions with the APD officers, toxic levels of methamphetamine and Mr. Gonzalez’s heart conditions due to morbid obesity could have caused his death, making the causation element of murder and manslaughter difficult to prove against the officers.”