The City of Alameda released a statement from the Alameda County District Attorney’s office on Thursday declaring that the officers involved with the death of Oakland resident Mario Gonzalez Arenales on April 19, 2021 were “not criminally liable.” Alameda Police officers had responded to a reports made to APD’s non-emergency line about a man acting strangely on Oak Street near South Shore Shopping Center. The entire incident was captured on the officers’ body cameras.
During the incident, the officers first restrained Gonzalez by holding his arms, Then, one of them restrained him further by kneeling on his back until he became unresponsive. After officers attempted to revive him with CPR and Narcan, the 26-year-old was pronounced dead at a hospital.
The manner of Gonzalez’s death immediately drew comparisons to the death of George Floyd, who died in custody after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for ten minutes. Derek Chauvin, the officer involved in Floyd’s death was convicted the day after Gonzalez’s death, further intensifying outcry from the public.
Mario Gonzalez’s death was ruled a homicide when the coroner’s report was released in Dec. 2021. Alameda County Chief Forensic Pathologist Dr. Vivian Snyder stated “the stress of the altercation and restraint combined with prone positioning in the setting of morbid obesity and recent use of methamphetamine placed further strain on Mr. Gonzales Arenales’ heart.” His autopsy stated his primary cause of death was the “toxic effects of methamphetamine” coupled with “the physiologic stress of altercation and restraint”, “morbid obesity”, and alcoholism.
Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley released a statement on Friday acknowledging the pain and concerns in the community over the killing of Mario Gonzalez. “This is true any time a situation involving police officers ends with the death of another. My sincere condolences go out to the family of Mr. Gonzalez at the time of his death and during this difficult time.”
Nevertheless, the 38-page report [PDF] issued March 30 concludes, “The officers’ decision to detain and arrest Mr. Gonzalez, and their subsequent use of force was objectively reasonable considering the agency policies, the totality of the circumstances, and the officers’ stated rationale.” “The classification of homicide by the Coroner’s Bureau is a neutral term and does not in any way affect the District Attorney’s Office’s determination in criminal context,” O’Malley wrote. “Our prosecutorial decisions must be guided by … the totality of the evidence before us, not by the classification of the Coroner’s Bureau.”
The three Alameda Police officers who responded, James Fisher, Cameron Leahy, and Eric McKinley, have been on paid administrative leave since the incident. The District Attorney asserted, “We are closing our file and will take no further action in this matter.” No criminal charges will be filed against the officers. Louise Renne of Renne Public Law Group has been working with the City to conduct an independent investigation into the incident. With the release of the DA’s report, her findings are expected to be released shortly.
Mario Gonzalez leaves behind his mother, brother and son, for whom he was the primary caregiver. Two civil rights lawsuits have been filed against the City on behalf of his mother and his five-year-old son. Despite the DA’s report, the plaintiffs may yet succeed in their lawsuits, as standard of proof for a civil action is lower than those for criminal cases.
Since this incident, the City of Alameda has implemented a CARE team to better respond to non-criminal calls involving people in distress or having a mental crisis. Fire Chief Nick Luby is expected to present a full status report on the program at the April 19 City Council meeting.
Adam Gillitt is the Publisher of the Alameda Post. Reach him at [email protected]. His writing is collected at AlamedaPost.com/Adam-Gillitt.