Gonzalez Family File Lawsuit Against City


Gonzalez Family File Lawsuit Against City

Attorneys for Mario Gonzalez’s son filed a wrongful death federal lawsuit Friday, Dec. 17, against three Alameda police officers, the former interim-Alameda police chief and the City of Alameda.
The lawsuit comes a week after the Alameda County Coroner Bureau’s office ruled Gonzalez’s death a homicide (“Coroner Report Released” Dec. 16).

The suit was filed in the Northern District of California on behalf of Gonzalez’s five-year-old son, Mario Jr. The suit names Alameda Police Department (APD) officers Eric McKinley, James Fisher, and Cameron Leahy, then-interim APD Police Chief Randy Fenn and the City as defendants.

Also named as defendants in the suit are John/Jane Does 1 through 10. The plaintiff is reserving the right to sue city employees they deem responsible for the hiring, training, supervision and discipline of the three officers involved in the altercation with Gonzalez, 26. The suit says the identities of the Jane/John Does are currently unknown, but plaintiffs will amend the complaint as soon as the individuals are revealed.

Gonzalez, of Oakland, died after an altercation with the three officers, which included them restraining him in the prone position on April 19. The suit states the officers violated Gonzalez’s civil and constitutional right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures; and free from using excessive and unreasonable force during a seizure, including the use of unlawful deadly force, which are secured under the Fourth Amendment. The claim also declares Mario Jr.’s constitutional right to be free from wrongful government interference with familial relationships and Plaintiff’s and Decedent’s right to companionship by using deadly force without a legitimate law enforcement purpose was violated.

Along with the violation of civil and constitutional rights, Gonzalez Jr.’s attorneys are filing five other counts against the defendants. Count two, Municipal and Supervisory Liability, excludes the three officers and names just the City, Fenn and Does 1 through 10 as defendants. The count deems the actions of the three officers were “directed, encouraged, allowed, and/or ratified by policymaking officials for City.”

The count cites the Mali Watkins detainment on May 23, 2020, (“Arrest Raises Questions for AAPD,” June 7, 2020) — Fisher was involved in this incident, according to the lawsuit — and the death of Shelby Gattenby, who was tased by APD officers before his death in December 2018, as examples that city officials have a history of tolerating “the use of unlawful deadly force including permitting and training officers to use deadly force when faced with less than an immediate threat of death or serious bodily injury.”

Other counts include negligence, false arrest and imprisonment, and assault and battery.

Mario Gonzalez Jr.’s attorneys are seeking punitive damages for the injuries he sustained as a result of the “acts and omissions” from the defendants. Those injuries include wrongful death of his father; hospital and medical expenses; coroner’s fees; and funeral and burial expenses. He is also claiming suffering from loss of familial relationships, including loss of love, companionship, comfort, affection and emotional distress.

The coroner report claimed the main cause of Gonzalez’s death was the “the toxic effects of methamphetamine,” but the suit alleges the amount, .9 milligrams per liter, was far too low to cause his death. Also, the report said Gonzalez’s alcoholism contributed to his death, but the suit says he did not have any alcohol in his system at his time of death.

On April 19, around 10:42 a.m., McKinley arrived at Scout Park in response to the calls for service of a disoriented and perhaps intoxicated Gonzalez peacefully standing in the park. McKinley questioned Gonzalez, asking him his name, what he was doing in the park, and other questions. Gonzalez was calm but could not coherently answer his questions.

Minutes after Fisher arrived, the two officers began to apprehend Gonzalez. After failing to place him in handcuffs, McKinley and Fisher took him to the ground. Bodycam footage shows Fisher and McKinley use their body weight to pin Gonzalez down. Gonzalez began struggling and struggling to breathe. Leahy arrived minutes later, and he used his body weight to control Gonzalez’s legs.

The suit was filed by Michael J. Haddad and Julia Sherwin for Haddad & Sherwin, LLP. Gonzalez’s mother, Edith Arenales, has retained her own counsel and will likely file a separate lawsuit. The three officers are on paid administrative leave.