A looming recall election has not deterred Alameda County DA Pamela Price from charging three police officers with involuntary manslaughter in a 2021 case where a suspect died from what was ruled to be “restraint asphyxiation” by the officers.

It was literally three years ago today that Oakland resident Mario Arenales Gonzalez died while being detained by police in an incident at a park in Alameda, in a George Floyd-like asphyxiation restraint by the three arresting Alameda police officers. Gonzalez was indeed intoxicated in the park, and while the Alameda County Coroner’s Bureau ruled the death a homicide, they added that the primary cause of death was methamphetamine in Gonzalez’s system. As such, previous Alameda County DA Nancy O’Malley declined to charge the three officers of any wrongdoing.

The case would get more controversial. The City of Alameda agreed to pay an $11 million wrongful death settlement, after a second, independent autopsy ruled that Gonzalez had actually died from “restraint asphyxiation” from the officers’ techniques, and that he had a non-lethal amount of meth in his system. So in early 2023, freshly elected Alameda County DA Pamela Price reopened the case against the three officers.  

And now KTVU reports that Price’s office will charge the three officers with involuntary homicide, as she announced in a 6 pm Thursday evening press conference.

“If people don't believe that police officers or law enforcement can be held accountable, then witnesses won't cooperate. We can't do our job without witnesses," Price said, according to KTVU. "We won't be able to administer justice if the community doesn't trust that the system is going to work for everyone on an equal basis."

Though oddly and vaguely, Price also said she didn’t have anything to do with the decision to prosecute the officers, and that she will not manage the case. KTVU notes that Price said “I am walled off from the case,” and KPIX has additional comments from Price that "It's a technical matter and I'm not able to speak on it at this time."

The Chronicle notes that all three officers, James Fisher, Cameron Leahy, and Eric McKinley, are still employed as law enforcement officers. Fisher is now a Contra Costa County sheriff’s deputy, Leahy and McKinley remain on administrative leave with the Alameda PD.

All are now scheduled to be arraigned on May 30. KTVU reports they could get four years in prison, though obviously, they’ve lawyered up.

“There is no new evidence,” attorney Alison Berry Wilkinson said in a statement to the Chronicle (Wilkinson had previously represented all three officers, and currently represents Leahy). “This is a blatantly political prosecution.”

It’s hard to separate this case from the recall effort against Price, which has now qualified for the ballot. That recall election will happen sometime in 2024, though a date is not determined. This case will surely not be resolved in 2024, but the politics of it are likely to affect that election, one way or another.  

Related: Alameda Agrees to Pay $11M In Wrongful Death Suit Brought By Family of Mario Gonzalez [SFist]

Image: Alameda Police Department