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Son of Mario Gonzalez Sues Alameda, Police Over Father's Death After Being Restrained By Officers

ALAMEDA (CBS SF) -- A lawsuit has been filed against the City of Alameda and three Alameda police officers on behalf of the five-year-old son of Mario Gonzalez, who died after being restrained and pinned down by the officers in April.

The lawsuit claims Gonzalez's constitutional rights and other rights were violated when Alameda police officers Eric McKinley, James Fisher, and Cameron Leahy struggled to detain him on April 19 as a suspect in a possible theft. Alameda police reported at the time that Gonzalez, who appeared to be under the influence, suffered a medical emergency.

According to the complaint, the officers used "excessive and unnecessary force and tactics ... subjecting him to asphyxiating restraint and unwarranted deadly force, resulting [in] his death."

Mario Gonzalez
In this image taken from Alameda Police Department body camera video, Alameda Police Department officers attempt to take 26-year-old Mario Gonzalez into custody, April 19, 2021, in Alameda, Calif. The video goes on to show officers pinning Gonzalez to the ground during the arrest that ended in his death. (Alameda Police Department via AP)

Last week, a coroner's report classified Gonzalez's manner of death as a homicide, resulting from a combination of drugs, obesity, and the physical stress of the altercation with officers who pinned him on the ground using their body weight.

"Mario Gonzalez's death was unnecessary and tragic," said Gonzalez family attorney Michael Haddad in a prepared statement. "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?"

The complaint alleges Gonzalez's death was at least the second restraint asphyxiation caused by Alameda police officers in three years.

On police bodycam video, Gonzalez is heard gasping and crying out as officers pressed their body weight on his back, neck and shoulder, including one officer pressing his knee for several minutes in Gonzalez's back. Gonzalez then became unresponsive and was later pronounced dead.

"Meth didn't kill Mario, the officers did," said family attorney Julia Sherwin in a prepared statement. "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."

Mario Gonzalez
Mario Gonzalez of Oakland, who died in custody of Alameda Police on April 19, 2021. (CBS)

Aside from his five-year-old son, Gonzalez was also a caretaker for a brother with special needs.

Officers Fisher, Leahy and McKinley, along with and parking enforcement employee Charlie Clemmens, are currently on administrative leave.

City officials said in April that former San Francisco City Attorney Louise Renne had been hired to conduct an independent investigation into Gonzalez's death. Renne has also served as a former president of the San Francisco Police Commission and was California Deputy Attorney General for 11 years.

Gonzalez's death prompted a renewed uproar against police brutality with the incident evoking the May 2020 death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Police officer Derek Chauvin, who knelt on Floyd's back and neck for more than nine minutes, was convicted of murder and sentenced to 22 years in prison. Three other officers face trial in the case early next year.

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