Gonzalez family files claim against the City and police department
The family of Mario Gonzalez filed a legal claim against the City of Alameda a month after his death while in the custody of Alameda Police Department (APD) officers.
Attorney Julia Sherwin of the Oakland law firm, Haddad & Sherwin LLP, filed the claim on behalf of the Gonzalez family on May 20. Gonzalez’s four-year-old son, Mario Luciano Gonzalez-Cortez; his son’s mother, Andrea Cortez; his mother, Edith; and his brothers, Efrain and Gerado; are all named as claimants on the petition. Each person brings a claim against the city individually because they were all dependent on Gonzalez, according to the claim.
Their damages are in excess of the minimum jurisdictional limits of the Superior Court for the State of California, and include wrongful death, appropriate survival claims, loss of life, physical pain and suffering, loss of services, relationships and support, emotional distress, medical and funeral expenses, violation of constitutional rights, and exemplary, punitive, and statutory damages. The family is seeking all damages and money allowed by law, according to the claim.
The claimants are also demanding a preservation of evidence and records related to the incident.
Gonzalez, of Oakland, died on April 19 after an altercation with several APD officers at a public park on the 800 block of Park Street (“Suspect Dies in Police Custody” April 20).
The claim states Gonzalez died due to “restraint asphyxia” from excessive force and improper restraint from the responding officers.
APD officers Eric McKinley, James Fisher, and Cameron Leahy and APD assistant Charles Clemmens arrived at the scene after APD received two reports of an intoxicated man, Gonzalez, near their homes. The calls went to the APD non-emergency hotline. Gonzalez appeared to be confused and possibly intoxicated at the time, but not a threat to himself or anyone else.
The responding officers restrained Gonzalez without reasonable suspicion or other legal cause. They brought Gonzalez to the ground and placed significant weight on his back, shoulders, neck, and legs for over five minutes in violation of generally accepted law enforcement standards, according to the claim. Gonzalez struggled to breathe until he was motionless.
The claim names McKinley, Fisher, Leahy and Clemmens as defendants. Other APD personnel including the Chief of Police, and supervisory personnel were named in the claim. Lastly, APD and City of Alameda were named as defendants in the claim.
The claim states the City of Alameda is responsible for claimants’ injuries through “its own acts and omissions, negligent and otherwise, by failing to properly and adequately hire, investigate, train, supervise, monitor, instruct, and discipline its police officers and other law enforcement personnel, including the officers identified herein.”
A damaged party must file a legal claim before filing a lawsuit. After sending the claim to each person or entity, the damaged party must wait for a period of time before filing a lawsuit in court. This period is typically at least 30 days.
The city has not responded to the claim. There are three ongoing independent investigations into the death of Gonzalez (“Gonzalez Investigations” April 27).
Sherwin is a civil rights trial lawyer with expertise in restraint asphyxia. She advised Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison and special prosecutor Steve Schleicher in the trial of Derek Chauvin, who was found guilty of murdering George Floyd last summer.