The city of Alameda, California, released bodycam footage this week of an incident involving police during which a 26-year-old man, Mario Gonzalez, died after officers pinned him to the ground for about five minutes during an arrest.
What are the details?
The incident, which occurred April 19, one day before former Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin was convicted on murder and manslaughter charges for his role in George Floyd’s death, is already drawing comparisons in the media to the Floyd killing. During an arrest last May, Chauvin knelt on Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes despite Floyd’s repeated complaints that he couldn’t breathe.
In the nearly hourlong footage released Tuesday, police appear to wrestle with Gonzalez, restraining him by pinning him facedown on the ground and applying pressure to his legs and back. After several minutes of struggling on the ground, Gonzalez becomes unresponsive and police immediately begin attempting chest compressions.
In both initial and updated reports about the incident, police in Alameda, which is just south of Oakland, wrote that Gonzalez had a “medical emergency” during an altercation with police. The department noted that officers responded to the scene after two separate reports came in about a male under the influence in a public area who may have committed a theft.
Police called his death a “tragedy,” but family and friends have accused police of murdering Gonzalez and then lying about it in subsequent reports.
A lawyer for Gonzalez’s family, Julia Sherwin, called Alameda Police Department’s explanation “misinformation,” comparing it to the initial police report released by Minneapolis police after Floyd’s death, the New York Times reported.
“His death was completely avoidable and unnecessary,” she added. “Drunk guy in a park doesn’t equal a capital sentence.”
Gonzalez’s brother, Gerardo, told a Bay area Fox affiliate, “What I saw was different from what I was told. The medical emergency [that police described] was because they were on his back while he was lying on the ground. It was brought by the officers on top of his head.”
Alameda Police Department body-worn camera footage April 19, 2021
What does the video show?
In the video, officers arrive at the scene and begin by questioning whether Gonzalez is thinking of hurting himself or others. Gonzalez appears to have difficulty maintaining the conversation.
“Here’s the plan,” one officer says. “I’ve got to identify you, so I know who I’m talking to — make sure you don’t have any warrants or anything like that. You come up with a plan, let me know you’re not going to be drinking in our parks over here. And then we can be on our merry way.”
“Merry-go-round?” Gonzalez replies.
The officers at this point begin trying to detain Gonzalez, eventually pushing him to the ground facedown and handcuffing him.
“It’s OK, Mario,” an officer is heard saying. “We’re going to take care of you.”
The video appears to show officers putting pressure near Gonzalez’s neck, shoulder, and back for about four minutes as Gonzalez struggles on the ground and lets out exasperated whimpers and grunts, saying, “I didn’t do nothing, OK?”
Throughout the struggle officers can be heard repeatedly asking Gonzalez to stop resisting.
At one point, one officer asks if they should roll Gonzalez on his side, but another replies, “I don’t want to lose what I got.”
“We have no weight on his chest, nothing,” one officer said, before attempting to adjust his position. Then another stops him, saying, “No, no, no. No weight, no weight, no weight.”
Seconds later, officers appear to recognize that Gonzalez had become unresponsive. Then they roll him on his side and immediately begin conducting chest compressions.
The police department tweeted that it “is committed to full transparency and accountability” during subsequent investigations into the incident, which are already underway by the department, the county, and a former San Francisco city attorney hired by the city to lead an independent probe, Fox News reported.
Some media outlets reported that police released bodycam footage of the incident only in response to complaints from Gonzalez’s family and members of the community. This is inaccurate. The department stated in its initial report following the incident that footage would be released in the coming week.
Three officers involved in the incident have also been placed on paid administrative leave per the department’s standard procedure.