New DA Reopens Police Abuse Case
New DA Reopens Police Abuse Case
The City of Alameda released a response to the DA's decision to reopen the case against the officers involved in the altercation that led to Mario Gonzalez's death.
"The City of Alameda was notified that the newly elected District Attorney plans to review the death of Mario Gonzalez," the statement reads. "Consistent with the city’s longstanding commitment to transparency and accountability, the city will cooperate fully with this review."
In the aftermath of Gonzalez's death and the fallout, the city arranged an independent investigation, led by former San Francisco City Attorney and Supervisor Louise Renne of Renne Public Law Group. The investigation was launched on April 23, 2021, four days after Gonzalez's death. That report was released to the public in May 2022 and found that no policy violations occurred ("https://alamedasun.com/news/independent-review-gonzalez-death-exonerates..., May, 12, 2022). At present time, two of the officers are assigned to desk duty, and the third has left the department, according to the statement.
The Alameda County District Attorney’s office announced Tuesday, Jan. 31, they are reopening the case against the three Alameda police officers involved in the death of Mario Gonzalez in 2021. The announcement was made in a press release posted on the Alameda County District Attorney website.
The reopening of the case is part of a larger program by the DA’s Office to reopen cases of officer-involved deaths that resulted in no charges against law enforcement. During the 2022 election cycle, newly elected Alameda County DA Pamela Y. Price promised to hold law enforcement officers accountable for unlawful conduct. Less than a month after she was sworn into the DA role, Price announced the formation of the Public Accountability Unit (PAU).
“I promised accountability,” stated Price. “This unit and its work are the start of the reckoning Alameda County has asked for holding people accountable for their misconduct.”
One of the first tasks of the new unit is to reexamine whether criminal charges should be filed against the three officers involved in the confrontation with Gonzalez before the 26-year-old’s death (“https://alamedasun.com/news/independent-autopsy-declares-gonzalez-died-r...,” April 20, 2021).
The Gonzalez case will be one of eight cases the PAU will reexamine. According to the DA’s office, the unit will also reopen the cases of the officer-involved shootings of Cody Chavez by the Pleasanton Police Department in 2022; Caleb Smith and Agustin Gonsalez by the Hayward Police Department in 2021 and 2019, respectively; Joshua Gloria by the Fremont Police Department in 2021; and Mack Jody Woodfox and Andrew Moppin-Buckskin by the Oakland Police Department in 2008 and 2007, respectively. The PAU will also reopen the case of Vinetta Martin’s suicide at Santa Rita Jail in Dublin in 2021.
Price said her office has asked several local police chiefs and new-Alameda County Sheriff Yesenia Sanchez to return evidence for the eight officer-involved shootings and in-custody deaths, with the intention of reopening the cases for further review to determine whether charges should be filed or not.
“Madam DA has heard the voices of the community when she was elected to this office and has put her vision for police accountability into action,” said Senior Assistant District Attorney Kwixuan Maloof, head of the PAU and lead attorney of the Civil Rights Bureau. “A reopening of these cases does not guarantee charges will be filed but will give this office and my team time for a thoughtful review and to leave no stone left unturned.”
Gonzalez died in police custody after then-Alameda Police Department (APD) officers James Fisher, Cameron Leahy and Eric McKinley stopped Gonzalez on April 19, 2021, as he was walking on the 800 block of Oak Street. Neighbors called a non-emergency line saying Gonzalez appeared to be intoxicated. After speaking with Gonzalez for several minutes, body camera footage showed McKinley attempting to detain Gonzalez.
A struggle ensued. Fisher assisted McKinley in detaining Gonzalez. During the struggle, the officers took Gonzalez to the ground. Leahy arrived later and assisted his colleagues. The three officers placed their body weight on Gonzalez for several minutes and then he became unresponsive. He was pronounced dead later that day.
In April 2022, then-Alameda County DA Nancy O’Malley ruled her office would not press criminal charges against James Fisher, Cameron Leahy and Eric McKinley, the three officers who restrained Gonzalez, which led to his death (“https://alamedasun.com/news/no-criminal-charges-officers-involved-mario-...,” April 9, 2022). O’Malley made her decision in a March 30 Final Report. In the 40-page report, O’Malley stated the “evidence does not support criminal charges being filed against any law enforcement official related to this incident.”
The Alameda County Coroner’s Bureau’s report stated, “the toxic effects of methamphetamine” was the leading cause in Gonzalez’s death (“https://alamedasun.com/news/coroner-report-released,” Dec. 14, 2021). The toxicology report detected .9 milligrams of meth per liter in his system along with a small amount of amphetamine. However, according to an independent autopsy report conducted by an independent forensic pathologist Dr. Bennet I. Omalu, Gonzalez died because of restraint asphyxiation (“https://alamedasun.com/news/independent-autopsy-declares-gonzalez-died-r...,” April 29, 2022).
Two federal civil lawsuits were filed separately against the City of Alameda and APD on behalf of Gonzalez’s mother, Edith Arenales, and his son, Mario Jr. The suits are still ongoing.
The PAU will be housed under a Civil Rights Bureau which oversees the newly formed PAU as well as Brady compliance and cases reviewed under the Racial Justice Act. There is no timetable when these reopened investigations will conclude. The District Attorney’s office said they will not be making any further comments on the reopened cases as they are now pending investigations.
Contact Ekene Ikeme at firstname.lastname@example.org.