ALAMEDA (CBS SF) — Anger continued to mount in Alameda Saturday as demonstrators staged a noisy protest in the neighborhood where Mario Gonzalez died after being pinned to the ground during a custody struggle with police officers.
On Friday, the League of United Latin American Citizens sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland, calling for an FBI investigation into the circumstances surrounding Gonzalez’s in-custody death on April 19th. Police bodycam video released shows officers pinning Gonzalez while kneeling on his back, neck and shoulder.
Gonzalez suffered a medical emergency during the struggle and died at a local hospital. The three officers — identified as James Fisher, Cameron Leahy and Eric McKinley — involved have been placed on administrative leave while death is investigated.
WARNING: Graphic video, viewer discretion advised
In his letter, LULAC National President Domingo Garcia wrote: “We understand that the Alameda County Sheriff, the Alameda County District Attorney, and the City of Alameda are conducting independent investigations. We expect that those investigations will focus on the Use of Force by those officers in a criminal context. This is a request for an investigation into whether Mr. Gonzalez’ Civil Rights were violated by these officers. In the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder and in consideration of the Georgia Sheriff who was recently indicted April 27, 2021 on use of unreasonable force found in an FBI Civil Rights Violation investigation. We urge you to complete an investigation into the matter of Mario Gonzalez as soon as practicable.”
The organizers of Saturday’s march were much more direct.
“Your irrational fear — which is truly about power, control, and domination — stole Mario’s life from his son, his brothers, his mother,” the group said in a statement to KPIX 5. “We are outraged and want to send a message to Klanameda Kop Kallers: You have blood on your hands! You are just as guilty as the police. You murdered Mario Gonzalez.”
They say the incident is hauntingly similar to George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis. Police officer Derek Chauvin was videotaped kneeing on Floyd’s neck before he died. Chauvin is awaiting sentencing after being found guilty of second-degree murder and other charges.
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- Independent Investigation Launched Into Alameda Police In-Custody Death
Alameda police said they contacted 26-year-old Gonzalez as a suspect in a possible theft on the 800 block of Oak Street and he allegedly appeared to be under the influence. According to police, when officers attempted to detain him, officers struggled to get him to put his arms behind his back and he suffered a medical emergency.
However, Gonzalez’s family said Gonzalez was healthy and had no medical conditions and are seeking criminal charges against the three officers involved. The family is also demanding an independent investigation into the actions of the officers and into their training.
“The police killed my brother in the same manner that they killed George Floyd,” said his brother Jerry Gonzalez at a press conference outside City Hall on Tuesday. “There was no reason to detain him, let alone kill him. The APD took a calm situation and made it fatal.”
The video released Tuesday shows two officers approaching Gonzalez at the end of a dead-end street. They speak with him for about 10 minutes before attempting to put his hands behind his back as they repeatedly ask and plead with Gonzalez to stop resisting. However, Gonzalez resists for several minutes before officers bring him down to the ground, where Gonzalez continued to resist officers forcing his hands behind his back.
On the video, Gonzalez is heard gasping and crying out as officers pressed their body weight on his back, neck and shoulder, including one officer pressing his knee for several minutes in Gonzalez’s back.
“He’s lifting my whole body weight up,” one officer is heard saying during the struggle.
After more than five minutes, Gonzalez stops struggling. One officer is heard asking: “Think we can roll him on his side?” but the other answers, “I don’t want to lose what I got, man.”
After the officers determine Gonzalez is unresponsive and not breathing, they begin administering life-saving measures before medics arrive to take over. They are also seen administering at least two doses of Narcan, which is given to counteract opiate overdoses. Gonzalez was later pronounced dead at a hospital.