The April 19 death of Oakland resident Mario Arenales Gonzalez while in the custody of Alameda police has garnered national headlines because it occurred just one day before former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was convicted of murdering George Floyd under similar circumstances.
The Alameda Police Department released body camera footage of Gonzalez's arrest and death on Tuesday, and family members immediately began calling the police officers' account false. The video, seen below, includes audio from 911 calls that led to the incident, and video of an officer trying to communicate with Gonzalez, who appears intoxicated and not especially incoherent. But at no point does Gonzalez become combative or threatening, and officers end up trying to put Gonzalez in handcuffs for reasons that aren't entirely clear.
Be warned that the video contains potentially disturbing scenes.
The incident occurred in the middle of the day in Scout Park, a small park on the 800 block of Oak Street in Alameda. Gonzalez can be seen on the arriving officer's body camera standing next to two Walgreens shopping baskets.
The New York Times picked up the story late Tuesday, and notes that 911 callers describe Gonzalez as appearing to be breaking security tags off of alcohol bottles. Another caller, who said Gonzalez was talking to himself near the caller's back fence, says, "He seems like he’s tweaking, but he’s not doing anything wrong. He’s just scaring my wife."
The arriving officer can be heard asking Gonzalez if they'd met anywhere, or whether he was feeling alright. Gonzalez can be heard muttering things like, "Something happened over there," and "I don't feel like walking around." He stands still and seems to be conversing calmly with the officer, despite not being very coherent.
Approximately seven minutes into the conversation, another officer arrives, and the first officer tells Gonzalez, "Here’s the plan. I’ve got to identify you, so I know who I’m talking to — make sure you don’t have any warrants or anything like that. 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."
Gonzalez, clearly not understanding, replies, "Merry-go-round?"
The officers — the three involved in the incident have been identified as James Fisher, Eric McKinley, and Cameron Leahy — attempt to put handcuffs on Gonzalez, but they struggle to get his hands behind his back. One officer can be heard saying, "Stop resisting."
Another says, "I think we’re going to have to put him down on the ground," which they do. And for a minute or two, Gonzalez is put in a prone position, at which point he makes grunting sounds and appears to be struggling and in distress, but he does not say any words. One officer can be seen with an elbow on his neck at one point, and another officer has a knee on Gonzalez's shoulder.
"What are we going to do?" the first officer asks. "Just keep him pinned down?"
An officer can be heard asking, "We have no weight on his chest?” and another says, “No, no, no weight.”
“It’s OK, Mario,” one officer says. “We’re going to take care of you.”
They discuss rolling Gonzalez onto his side, but one officer says, "I don’t want to lose what I’ve got." And they say to Gonzalez, "please stop fighting us."
Gonzalez quickly becomes non-responsive, and the officers roll him onto his back. One officer says he has no pulse, and they begin performing CPR. He ends up dying in their custody, and police would say last week that he died of a "medical emergency" following a "scuffle" with officers.
"They killed him for what reason?” said Gonzalez's mother, Edith Gonzalez, during a protest outside the Alameda Police Department. "Because he was in the park? Why? He was doing nothing." As the Chronicle reports, Gonzalez's family is demanding an investigation into the incident, and several are already underway.
"Everything we saw in that video was unnecessary,” said Gonzalez’s brother, Gerardo Gonzalez, per the Chronicle. “The police took a minor incident and made it fatal.”
As KTVU reports, two attorneys who reviewed the footage said they see the similarities to the George Floyd case, obviously. But there are differences, including the discussion about not putting weight on Gonzalez's chest. But, as criminal defense attorney and former SF prosecutor Tony Brass says, "It's pretty clear that putting someone belly down, handcuffed with weight on their back is dangerous." Brass notes that Gonzalez appeared to expire surprisingly quickly, given the circumstances, and without any apparently significant weight on his neck, unlike the Floyd case.
The incident is now under investigation by both the Alameda County Sheriff's Office and the Alameda County District Attorney. The City of Alameda has reportedly retained Louise Renne, of Renne Public Law Group in San Francisco, to conduct its own investigation.
Gonzalez's family has retained attorney Julia Sherwin, who tells the Times, "His death was completely avoidable and unnecessary. Drunk guy in a park doesn’t equal a capital sentence."