Alameda County's new progressive district attorney is using a similar playbook to SF's former DA Chesa Boudin in announcing possible prosecutions of police officers in her first weeks on the job.
District Attorney Pamela Price, a civil rights attorney who replaced longtime Alameda County DA Nancy O'Malley this month, is wasting no time in her tenure in sending a message about police brutality. As KTVU reports, Price announced Tuesday that she is reopening the case against three City of Alameda police officers who were cleared last year by her predecessor in the April 2021 in-custody death of Mario Arenales Gonzalez.
O'Malley's office had hired San Francisco-based Renne Public Law Group to review the evidence in the case, which included body-camera footage of Gonzalez's arrest. In May 2022, the firm released its report on the incident, clearing the three arresting officers of wrongdoing. Those officers, Eric McKinley, James Fisher, and Cameron Leahy, were found to have "complied with policy" in their techniques to restrain Gonzalez as he flailed and struggled while face-down on the ground, and that his subsequent death was an "unfortunate and tragic outcome."
A month before the release of the report, O'Malley had already announced that her office would not be filing criminal charges in the case.
Gonzalez was standing around, visibly intoxicated in a small Alameda park in April 2021. His family said he had been unemployed during the pandemic, putting on weight and growing depressed, and that day he may have shoplifted some liquor from a nearby store. After nearby residents made non-emergency calls to police about his presence in the park, police arrived and questioned him, and his responses to police were mostly incoherent.
Minutes after police began trying to restrain Gonzalez on the ground, he went into cardiac arrest — and a medical examiner concluded his death was directly caused by the incident, but methamphetamine and alcohol use as well as obesity were listed as contributing factors.
The case at the time drew immediate comparisons to the George Floyd killing a year earlier, but the Renne Group's report concluded that the three officers here had "were attempting to avoid pressure on Gonzalez’s spine or neck" while restraining him.
Price says that her announcement about reopening the case, along with seven other police-related cases her office is reviewing, is no indication that any charges will be filed.
One of the other cases Price will focus on, she says, is the 2008 shooting of Mack “Jody” Woodfox by Oakland Officer Hector Jimenez, who also fatally shot another man within seven months of Woodfox's shooting. The Woodfox case, in which Woodfox was unarmed and allegedly fleeing from a traffic stop when he was shot in the back, was a main driver for Price seeking the DA's office she said at a rally on Sunday. She called it "the proverbial 'straw that broke the camel’s back' for me to move forward and run for this office a second time, to make valuable and needed changes."
As Bay Area News Group reports, Price spoke at the rally Sunday in the wake of national outrage over the Memphis killing of Tyre Nichols.
"As the District Attorney of Alameda County, I refuse to be silent,” Price said, per the news group. "I refuse to be complicit in murder, in racialized justice, in a failed system that does not respond to people suffering with mental health crises, that does not provide support to the community, and I understand that when police cross the line and murder and abuse and exploit people that that is a threat to public safety."
Referring to a stack of police-involved cases about which reports arrived just before she took the office, Price said in a statement, "These reports were released at the 11th hour, just weeks before I took office. As the top prosecutor, I want to give each case a thorough review to ensure justice has not been forgotten."
Civil rights attorney Adante Pointer, who is representing Gonzalez's young son and mother, Edith Arenales, in a civil rights case, tells KTVU that he's "Happy to see that there's going to be a fresh set of eyes taking a look at Gonzalez's case given the paltry track record of Price's predecessor who seemed to find no fault in any police officers' misconduct."
Previously: Alameda County DA Declines to Charge Alameda Cops In Death of Mario Gonzalez