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Man who died in CA police custody was pinned to ground for 5 minutes, body camera footage shows

Mario Gonzalez
Posted at 6:51 AM, Apr 28, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-28 10:17:20-04

A man who died in police custody in California earlier this month was pinned to the ground by officers for about five minutes before becoming unresponsive, according to police body camera footage released Tuesday.

Mario Gonzalez, 26, died in the custody of the Alameda Police Department on April 19. Body camera footage of the incident, released Tuesday, showed that officers took Gonzalez to the ground during a struggle and kept their weight on him for several minutes.

In a press release the day after Gonzalez’s death, the Alameda Police claimed Gonzalez suffered an unknown “medical emergency” during a “scuffle.” The release made no mention of pinning tactics police used to restrain Gonzalez.

The video released Tuesday begins with audio of two 911 calls from people requesting service regarding a man fitting the same description. One caller informed dispatch about “a man in my front yard talking to himself.” The second caller said the man had bottles of alcohol which he was “breaking security tags off of.”

The video footage opens with officers arriving on scene encountering Gonzalez. Initially, they spoke to him for about 10 minutes before moving to take him into custody.

For a few minutes, officers tried to get Gonzalez to put his hands behind his back so they could handcuff him. Eventually, after Gonzalez continued to resist, they took him to the ground.

Click here to view the body camera footage. Warning: It contains images some may find graphic.

Once Gonzalez was on the ground, officers kept him pinned for about five minutes. While on the ground, Gonzalez spoke through labored breathing, and at one point he wretched.

Shortly before Gonzalez went unresponsive, an officer asked if they should roll him on his side.

“I don’t want to lose what I’ve got, man,” a second officer said.

Also in the final moments of Gonzalez’s consciousness, an officer corrects his partner, telling him “no weight on his chest.”

Seconds after realizing Gonzalez is no longer responding, officers began CPR.

“He went from combative to nonresponsive almost immediately,” an officer said as paramedics arrived.

Gonzalez’s family members spoke outside of Alameda Police Headquarters on Tuesday after viewing the footage.

“My mother was heartbroken to see Mario’s last moment. She gave birth to him, her firstborn, raised him, and now has to bury him. It was painful to watch the violence and disregard for his humanity,” said Gerardo Gonzalez, Mario’s brother, according to the Mercury News. “They had their weight on his head and his back. He was complying and they continued to pin him down with their weight. Everything we saw in that video was unnecessary and unprofessional. And it took a minuscule event and made it fatal.”

According to the Alameda Police Department’s April 20 statement, three officers involved in the arrest have been placed on paid administrative leave.

The Mercury News reports that the Alameda County sheriff and the district attorney’s office are conducting separate investigations into the incident.

Officials are still awaiting toxicology and autopsy reports connected with Gonzalez's death.

Gonzalez’s death has parallels to the death of George Floyd, a Minneapolis man who died in police custody last May. Floyd died when several police officers, including former police officer Derek Chauvin, kept their body weight on his chest and neck for about eight minutes.

Video of Floyd’s arrest and death sparked months of protest against police brutality and racial inequality last summer.

Last week, Chauvin was convicted of second- and third-degree murder as well as manslaughter in connection with Floyd’s death.