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Mario Gonzalez reportedly died after an Alameda police officer kneeled on his back for more than five minutes. Now, his family is suing the police department for wrongful death. They allege that the 26-year-old man died from the “use of excessive force, improper restraint, mechanical asphyxia, and positional, restraint, and compression asphyxia.”
According to NY Daily News, the lawsuit says “Mr. Gonzalez was not engaged in any crime and was not a danger to himself or others,” even though he “appeared to be confused and possibly intoxicated.” It also claims that police had no reason to detain him without reasonable suspicion or other legal cause, and he was not engaged in any crime. Officers Eric McKinley, James Fisher, and Cameron Leahy, and police assistant Charles Clemmens were all named in the lawsuit. McKinley, Fisher, and Leahy are already on paid administrative leave.
Alameda police reportedly approached Gonzalez at a public park on Apr. 19 after complaints about public intoxication and possible theft, calling it a “scuffle” and saying that Gonzalez suffered a “medical emergency.” Body-cam footage released later showed the responding officers asking him for identification, which he did not have, and then moving to handcuff him behind his back. Gonzalez resisted, and was knocked to the ground on his stomach.
Gonzalez begged officers to “please don’t do this,” but they kept him facedown in the mulch, with a knee on his neck and back. At one point, an officer asked: “What are we going to do? Just keep him pinned down?”
After about five minutes, Gonzalez lost consciousness. Officers checked for a pulse, and then began chest compressions. Gonzalez was eventually declared dead at the hospital. The Alameda County Sheriff’s Department, which is conducting an autopsy, has not determined the official cause of death yet.
The original calls about the apparently intoxicated but non-threatening Gonzalez in an Alameda Park were actually made to the city’s non-emergency line, but police responded anyway, according to SFist. Gonzalez had been out of work and depressed for the past year, and he liked to go to Alameda for some quiet time by himself. The City of Alameda told KTVU through a spokesperson that “police are often dispatched from the non-emergency line as well as from the 911 line.”
“There are three investigations taking place regarding the death of Mario Gonzalez, two by outside agencies (the District Attorney and the Sheriff) and one independent investigation initiated by the city,” city spokesperson Sarah Henry told CNN.
The family’s attorney also spoke to CNN and said: “We know this case is very strong, because the Alameda officers used clearly improper and excessive force to asphyxiate Mario Gonzalez, who was passive and harmless at all times. Mario’s four-year-old son, little Mario, misses his Papi very much,”
The city has 45 days to respond to the claim before the attorneys can file a lawsuit.