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  • Writer's pictureVeronica Irwin

Police Held Mario Gonzalez Face Down Until Unresponsive; He Was Pronounced Dead the Same Day

In footage reminiscent of the George Floyd video, police pinned the man to the ground until he lost consciousness.


SF Weekly

The Alameda Police Department released body camera footage Tuesday night of the April 19 arrest and apparent death of 26-year-old Mario Gonzalez. The clip is eerily similar to video of George Floyd’s death under the knee of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who was convicted of second-degree murder, third-degree murder, and manslaughter on April 20, a day after Gonzalez died.

As in the case of the now-infamous killing of Floyd, the APD footage shows officers pinning a man to the ground for around five minutes before he becomes unresponsive. Though Gonzalez was pronounced dead at a local hospital, audio from the footage reveals one officer asking another if he can detect a pulse.

The answer: “No.”

In the newly released clip, police can be seen in the video applying pressure to his back and head as he is held face down in a patch of dirt and grass. Included in the footage is the audio from two separate 911 calls. One of the callers says that Gonzalez didn’t appear to be “doing anything wrong,” explaining that he was calling because Gonzalez was scaring his wife.

At no point in the video does Gonzalez become violent.

In a typically clinical official police department statement released April 19, APD said that a “physical altercation ensued” after police attempted to detain Gonzalez. The statement continues, explaining that Gonzalez then “had a medical emergency” and that he died at a local hospital.

Footage shows that Gonzalez does not comply with requests to put his hands behind his back in the video. Because Gonzalez does not appear lucid it’s unclear whether he understands the officer’s commands. He remains calm until officers force his hands behind his back and force him to the ground. In their struggle to maintain control of Gonzalez, the officers at times seem to be placing their weight on his back, using their hands and knees to keep him face down as his hands remain shackled.

Gonzalez becomes increasingly agitated. He coughs. His breathing seems labored. One officer advises another not to put weight on Gonzalez’s back. Moments later Gonzalez stops moving. That’s when the officers roll him over and check for a pulse. Detecting none, they begin administering chest compressions.

The three officers involved in the arrest were placed on paid administrative leave, according to a separate statement released April 20. APD identified the three police officers Wednesday as James Fisher, Cameron Leahy, and Eric McKinley.

“Mario was a kind man and level headed. There was a way to deal with this situation without killing my son,” said Gonzalez’ mother, Edith Arenales, in Spanish. “They never took his knee off of his head.” Viewing the available bodycam footage, it’s unclear if the officers ever placed a knee directly on Gonzalez’s head, though at times one can see a blue-gloved hand apply pressure to Gonzalez’s head.

“We demand that all the officers are fired and that charges are brought against them immediately,” added his youngest brother, Gerardo Gonzalez. Gerardo says Mario was also a caretaker for their brother, who is autistic. The family is raising money for funeral expenses and Mario’s son and brother’s ongoing care on GoFundMe.

Mario Gonzalez is survived by a four-year-old son, who goes by “Little Mario,” according to his mother Andrea Cortez. “His son Little Mario keeps asking where his father is. He thinks he’s in the sky in a spaceship. How do I explain that he’s not coming back?” said Cortez.

On April 20, APD announced that the Alameda County Sheriff’s office and the Alameda County District Attorney’s office would be conducting parallel investigations, and that they would also contract with an outside investigator to conduct a third, independent investigation. On April 23, they announced that Louise Renne of the Renne Public Law Group would be conducting the independent investigation. Activists had been highly skeptical of the first two investigations announced, with George Galvis of Communities United for Restorative Youth Justice calling them “police investigating the police.”

“We don’t need armed police to show up to a man sitting quietly in the park,” said Cat Brooks of the Anti Police-Terror Project. “If a program of civilian-led crisis response like MH First had been in place, Mario might still be with his family today.”

Alameda’s City Council rejected a proposal last July that would have invested 42% of the Alameda Police Department’s budget into social service programs. Many advocates of defunding American police departments say that if money from police department budgets were redirected towards first responders trained in mental health and addiction treatment, fewer civilians would die in police custody.

Though the story is still developing, many Bay Area residents are already pointing out the similarities between Gonzalez’ death and the death of Floyd. Both men were held to the ground with an officer’s bodyweight for several minutes before dying at the scene. Both were also being arrested for nonviolent offenses — while Floyd was accused of using a counterfeit bill, APD said that they suspected Gonzalez of stealing alcohol bottles at the time of his arrest. APD also said in their initial statement that Gonzalez appeared “under the influence.”

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