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Press release content from Globe Newswire. The AP news staff was not involved in its creation.
PRESS RELEASE: Paid content from Globe Newswire
Press release content from Globe Newswire. The AP news staff was not involved in its creation.

Mario Gonzalez’s Five-Year-Old Son Files Federal Civil Rights Lawsuit Against City of Alameda and Police Officers For Officers’ Homicide of His Father

December 17, 2021 GMT

OAKLAND, Calif., Dec. 17, 2021 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- Civil rights law firm Haddad & Sherwin LLP announced today that it has filed a federal court lawsuit against the three Alameda police officers involved in Mario Gonzalez’s restraint-asphyxia death on April 19, 2021, as well as then-Interim Police Chief Randy Fenn and the City of Alameda. The involved officers are Eric McKinley, James Fisher, and Cameron Leahy, who reportedly have been on administrative leave since Mr. Gonzalez’s death. The Alameda County Sheriff-Coroner determined that Mr. Gonzalez’s death was a homicide.

The lawsuit brings civil rights claims alleging violation of Mr. Gonzalez’s constitutional and other rights. A copy of the Complaint filed today in United States District Court for the Northern District of California is available upon request.

On April 19, 2021 – the day before the jury found former Minneapolis police officer Derrick Chauvin guilty of murder for the restraint-asphyxia death of George Floyd – Alameda Police Officer Eric McKinley encountered Mario Gonzalez in a small pocket-park in Alameda, California. Two neighbors had called police to investigate a man talking to himself and not making any sense, standing near one caller’s front yard fence. The caller stated that the man was not doing anything wrong, but that the man’s presence was scaring the caller’s wife. Officer McKinley asked Mario Gonzalez how he was doing, and Gonzalez responded that he was fine, although he appeared confused and disoriented. After attempting to engage Mario in conversation for several minutes, and after having other officers confirm with a nearby drugstore that Mario had not stolen bottles of liquor seen on the ground nearby, it was evident that Mario was not violating any law. At that point, Officer McKinley should have thanked Mario and left.

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Instead, Officer McKinley called for back-up, and when Officer Fisher arrived, together they grabbed Mario to place him in handcuffs. Officers’ body-camera video shows officers placing Mario in multiple pain compliance holds before they forced him face-down on the ground. Officers forced Mario into a prone position, and Officers McKinley and Fisher held him down with their force and body weight. The officers were soon joined by Officer Leahy, who added his weight as well. Mario struggled to breathe over the next five minutes while these officers restrained Mario in a prone position with their force and body weight.

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Mario Gonzalez never attacked or threatened any officer, and never actively resisted any officer. He did move around in attempts to breathe under Defendants’ illegal and asphyxiating restraint. In the course of the officers’ illegal restraint and seizure of Mario Gonzalez, Officer Fisher said, “He’s lifting my whole body weight up.” After the officers had handcuffed Mario, but still kept him prone with great weight on his back and neck, one officer said, “Think we can roll him on his side?” to which another officer answered, “I don’t want to lose what I got, man.” Eventually when officers rolled Mario over, he was limp and unresponsive.   He died as a result of the officers’ tactics and force.

In addition to finding Mario Gonzalez’s death was a homicide, the Alameda County Sheriff-Coroner found that “the officers were applying pressure to [Mario’s] torso and legs with at least some of the weight of their bodies” and the “stress of the altercation and restraint” contributed to his death, along with his obesity, alcoholism, and recent use of methamphetamine. The amount of methamphetamine found in Mario’s blood was relatively low, well within what the United States government has determined to be a “normal recreational level.”   The risk of death from methamphetamine is just 1 in 353,000.

This was at least the second restraint asphyxiation caused by APD officers in three years.

Andrea Cortez, the mother of Mario Gonzalez’s five-year-old son, says: “Mario was a peaceful, calm person. He was a very mellow guy. He adored our son and was a good father. The police should have known to use better tactics with Mario. He wasn’t hurting anyone and he was clearly confused. If they had rolled him on his side when the first officer said to, my son’s father might still be here.”
  
Michael Haddad, one of little Mario’s attorneys, says: “Mario Gonzalez’s death was unnecessary and tragic. How many more people will have to be killed by police officers who ignore the kindergarten wisdom that people can’t breathe if you kneel on their back?”

Julia Sherwin, another family attorney, says, “Meth didn’t kill Mario, the officers did. We call on District Attorney Nancy O’Malley to bring criminal charges for this homicide. In the meantime, little Mario will hold the officers who killed his Papi accountable in federal court, and we will fight for reforms so no other family will suffer from such a senseless and completely preventable death in the future.”

To interview attorney Michael Haddad or Julia Sherwin of Haddad & Sherwin LLP, please call or email them as listed below.

A link to the full complaint is available here.

A Go Fund Me account has been established to support little Mario. Click here if you wish to contribute: https://gofund.me/a964dc8d

ABOUT HADDAD & SHERWIN LLP. Founded in 1998 by Michael Haddad and Julia Sherwin, Haddad & Sherwin LLP is an Oakland law firm representing people in serious civil rights, police and jail misconduct, and wrongful death cases. For more information, visit https://haddadandsherwin.com/.

Contact:

Michael Haddad or Julia Sherwin
(office) (510) 452-5500
michael.julia@haddadandsherwin.com

Tim Johnson
UPRAISE Marketing + PR for Haddad & Sherwin LLP
(cell) (415) 385-9537
Haddad-sherwin@upraisepr.com