Police in the Northern California city of Alameda have released body camera footage showing officers pinning a man to the ground for more than five minutes during an arrest last week that ended in his death.
Mario Gonzalez, 26, stopped breathing after the April 19 interaction with police at a park in Alameda. A police statement said Gonzalez had a medical emergency after officers tried to handcuff him.
His family contends he was killed by police who used excessive force, just a day before a jury in Minneapolis, Minnesota found former officer Derek Chauvin guilty of killing George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, by kneeling on his neck for nearly nine minutes in May of 2020. The verdict has renewed a push for further policy accountability in the US.
The family of Gonzalez were quick to make the comparison.
“The police killed my brother in the same manner they killed George Floyd,” said the dead man’s brother, Gerardo Gonzalez, at a news conference on Tuesday night, shortly after the body camera footage was released.
The nearly hourlong video from two officers’ body cameras shows police talking to Gonzalez in a park after receiving 911 calls that he appeared to be disoriented or drunk. Gonzalez seems dazed and struggles to answer questions.
When Gonzalez does not produce any identification, the officers try to force his hands behind his back to handcuff him but he resists and they take him to the ground.
The officers repeatedly ask him for his full name and birthdate.
“We’re going to take care of you, OK, we’re going to take care of you,” one officer says.
Gonzalez, who weighed about 250 pounds, grunts and shouts as he lays face down on some wood chips while the officers restrain him. One officer puts an elbow on his neck and a knee on his shoulder.
Brother of #MarioGonzalez: “the police killed my brother in the same way they killed #GeorgeFloyd.”
Gonzalez family has seen Alameda PD body cam video & they say police had their weight on Mario’s neck & his back.
“Everything we saw in this video was unnecessary…” @nbcbayarea pic.twitter.com/Tv3SZ3T5eD
— Melissa Colorado (@melissacolorado) April 27, 2021
“He’s lifting my whole body weight up,” an officer says at one point.
One officer also appears to put a knee on his back and leaves it there for about four minutes as Gonzalez gasps for air, saying “I didn’t do nothing, OK?”
Gonzalez’s protests appear to weaken and after about five minutes he seems to lose consciousness.
Shortly before he stops breathing, one officer asks the other: “Think we can roll him on his side?” but the other answers, “I don’t want to lose what I got, man.”
Apparently seeking reassurance, the first officer asks “we got no weight on his chest?” then repeats “No! No weight … no weight.”
“He’s going unresponsive,” one officer says.
The officers roll Gonzalez over and perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation but he was later pronounced dead at a hospital.
At the news conference on Tuesday, family said Gonzalez had a four-year-old son and was also the main caretaker of his 22-year-old brother, who has autism.
An autopsy is pending to determine the cause of his death, but family members said police escalated what should have been a minor, peaceful encounter with the unarmed man.
“He’s a lovely guy. He’s respectful, all the time,” said Mario’s mother, Edith Arenales. “They broke my family for no reason.”
Alameda “is committed to full transparency and accountability in the aftermath of Mr. Gonzalez’s death”, the city said in a statement. It said Gonzlez’s death is under investigation by the Alameda County Sheriff’s Department, the county district attorney’s office and a former San Francisco city attorney hired by the city to lead an independent probe.
The most recent death in police custody in the US comes as advocates have pushed for reviews of various restraints used against those being arrested.
The Alameda police department’s policy manual permits the use of “pain compliance techniques” for officers who have completed department-approved training, according to NBC Bay Area. It also includes a section on trained officers’ ability to use the controversial carotid control hold when it “appears necessary to control a person” in certain cases, including if the person is “violent or physically resisting”.
The three officers involved in the arrest have been placed on paid leave during the investigation.