The April 19 death of 26-year-old Mario Gonzalez Arenales while being arrested by Alameda police has been ruled a homicide, however his health, methamphetamine use, and alcohol were also contributing factors, according to a newly released autopsy report.
Nearly a year after the death of George Floyd in a similar interaction with police, Mario Gonzalez Arenales suffered cardiac arrest and stopped breathing while being handcuffed in a prone position by Alameda police. Now, an attorney representing Gonzalez's five-year-old son says she expects the district attorney to conduct a criminal investigation, and she will be filing a federal lawsuit.
According to the autopsy report by Alameda County Chief Forensic Pathologist Vivan Snyder, the manner of death was homicide, but the primary cause of death of "toxic effects of methamphetamine," with obesity and physiological stress, as well as alcoholism, being contributing factors.
Attorney Julia Sherwin, who is representing Gonzalez's son, stressed to KTVU that the amount of meth in Gonzalez's system was "low," and she sees this primarily as an asphyxiation case.
"Based on the totality of available information, including investigative, autopsy, and laboratory findings, it is apparent that Mr. Gonzalez Arenales experienced cardiopulmonary arrest because of multiple factors," the report states. "The methamphetamine detected in his blood combined with his enlarged and dilated heart could have together resulted in fatal cardiac arrhythmia."
The report further explains, "During the interaction with law enforcement agents, he was face-down on the ground (prone) with his hands handcuffed behind his back, and at times the officers were applying pressure to his torso and legs with at least some of the weight of their bodies. The stress of the altercation and restraint combined with prone positioning in the setting of morbid obesity and recent use of methamphetamine placed further strain on Mr. Gonzalez Arenales’ heart."
The circumstances of the officers' interaction with Gonzalez remain a source of controversy — and in the days following his death, we learned that neighbors in the area had called in Gonzalez's odd presence to police, but they expressed that he was not doing anything wrong or illegal. One just said, "He's scaring my wife."
Gonzalez was hanging around, muttering to himself, in a small park on Oak Street in Alameda — and it may have been a spot he had come to before to drink by himself. His family said that he had lost his job during the pandemic and had become depressed and was drinking.
He also had methamphetamine and amphetamine in his system — and, indeed, one of those callers that alerted police to his behavior said in their call that he appeared to be "tweaking." He was also toting a shopping basket containing what appeared to be stolen liquor bottles with anti-theft caps still on them, possibly taken from a nearby store.
Alameda Police Officer Eric McKinley engaged with Gonzalez, talking with him calmly for about nine minutes before he and two other officers attempted to arrest him — for his own safety, they said. Gonzalez ended up on the ground in a prone position, and body camera footage released in the days after his death
An attorney for the officers, Alison Berry Wilkinson, previously said that the officers "never wanted to take him to the ground," and that "It was the strength and intensity of Mr. Gonzalez's own momentum" that caused he and the three officers to fall to the ground.
During the struggle, one officer can be heard saying, "It’s OK, Mario. We’re going to take care of you."
Unlike the Floyd killing, this incident only lasted a minute or two in which Gonzalez struggled with the officers, and then became unresponsive. He was rushed to a hospital in Oakland in cardiac arrest, and died.
Sherwin has continued to argue that the arrest should have never even occurred, let alone the putting of this man in a prone position. The officers said they were placing him under arrest, in part, to keep him from tripping over a nearby stump.
"Police are not allowed to arrest people to keep from tripping," Sherwin said, per KTVU. "They wanted to keep him from tripping so they killed him instead? That's utterly ridiculous."
As the Chronicle reported, Alameda city officials hired San Francisco attorney Louise Renne, of Renne Public Law Group, to conduct an independent investigation into the incident, the results of which have not arrived.