Julia Sherwin, lawyer for Mario Gonzalez’s family, speaks about his death in Oakland, California on Wednesday. Members of the Gonzalez family believe the police used excessive force when they tried to arrest him. Josh Edelson / AP Hide caption
Josh Edelson / AP
Josh Edelson / AP
Alameda police “mistreated” the arrest of 26-year-old Mario Gonzalez last week and caused his death, according to the lawyer representing the man’s family.
Gonzalez died on April 19 after police held him on the ground for at least five minutes. The Alameda Police Department said Gonzalez suffered a “medical emergency” following an argument with officials.
Julia Sherwin, the attorney representing Gonzalez’s family, said Gonzalez’s actions on the day did not warrant a response from law enforcement from the start.
“He’s unarmed. He’s just got a comb. He’s combed his hair and has been there for half an hour,” she told NPR’s Eric Westervelt. “Why this required a law enforcement response at that moment is a mystery to me.”
Sherwin said officers never told Gonzalez why he was arrested before attempting to handcuff him.
Alameda interim police chief Randy Fenn said Gonzalez “does not appear to be violent or abusive” in the body camera before officers arrest him.
Fenn said it was unclear whether officials used justified measures or excessive force. Three ongoing investigations will determine whether the officers acted appropriately.
Body camera footage released Tuesday by Alameda police sheds more light on what happened before, during and after Gonzalez’s interaction with officials. During the fight with Gonzalez, officers are seen placing arms and knees on his back to hold him back.
Gonzalez’s family accused the officers of excessive violence, saying the police murdered Mario Gonzalez.
On the day of his death, 911 callers complained that Gonzalez was standing alone in a small park in a residential area talking to himself. He apparently has two bottles of alcohol, Sherwin said.
When the officers arrived, “they just got the situation completely wrong,” she said. Gonzalez appears to be compromised in the video from the body camera.
But “He was very calm and his family reports that he was just like that,” Sherwin said. “He was a gentle, calm guy who never got aggressive with people.”
Fenn said ongoing investigation into events that day, the results of which he hopes to be made public within a few weeks, should reveal, “What was the state of mind of the officials? What were they going to do?”
The Alameda County Sheriff’s Department and the Alameda County District Attorney opened separate criminal investigations. An independent investigation of Louise Renne, the former San Francisco city attorney hired by Alameda City Manager Eric Levitt, is also ongoing.
Sherwin said the family would like to see the autopsy and toxicology reports to understand all of the factors contributing to Gonzalez’s death.
“But I had to deal with these cases for two decades and watch the body cam video,” she said. “I know Mario died because he was on the floor with officers on him for five minutes.”