Second Gonzalez Lawsuit Filed Against City, Officers

Second Gonzalez Lawsuit Filed Against City, Officers

The mother of Mario Gonzalez filed a federal civil lawsuit against City of Alameda and the three Alameda police officers who he had an altercation with before his death last April.

Gonzalez’s mother, Edith Arenales, filed the lawsuit Wednesday, Feb. 2, in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. The lawsuit is seeking expenses for coroner’s fees, funeral and burial costs, and punitive damages.

Her lawsuit is almost identical to the federal civil suit that was filed on behalf of Gonzalez’s son, Mario Jr., on Dec. 17, 2021 (“Gonzalez Family File Lawsuit Against City,” Dec. 21). Arenales’ suit was filed by a different law firm. Arenales’ lawsuit was filed by Adanté D. Pointer and Patrick Buelna for the law firm, Pointer & Buelna, LLP, in Oakland. Mario Jr.’s suit was filed by Michael J. Haddad and Julia Sherwin for Haddad & Sherwin, LLP.

In the 21-page lawsuit, Arenales and her lawyers allege Alameda police officers Eric McKinley, James Fisher and Cameron Leahy, “unlawfully seized Mario Gonzalez, used excessive force against him, and unjustified deadly force that included a suffocating restraint,” which led Gonzalez, 26, to die from restraint asphyxia.

The lawsuit states the officers had no reason to believe that Gonzalez was a threat.

“Both service calls provided information that Gonzalez was likely intoxicated but had not posed any danger. Furthermore, Gonzalez provided answers that made it apparent that he was a bit confused and disoriented,” the suit reads. “Unfortunately, the defendants failed to make any reasonable efforts to properly handle the situation and de-escalate. Rather than rendering aid to Gonzalez, the defendants decided to escalate the situation into a one-sided physical altercation.”

The City of Alameda, McKinley, Fisher, Leahy and former Alameda Police Department (APD) Interim Police Chief Randy Fenn are listed as defendants in Arenales’ lawsuit. Also, included as defendants are Does 1 through 50. Similar to Mario Jr.’s lawsuit, plaintiffs will add more defendants who they deem responsible for the training and employment of the three officers. According to the suit, their names will be included when they are ascertained.

Gonzalez died on April 19, 2021. APD dispatch received a call early that morning of a man, Gonzalez, talking to himself outside the front gate of a home on the corner of Oak and Powell streets. Another caller reported seeing a Gonzalez with what appeared to be stolen bottles of alcohol.

McKinley was the first to approach Gonzalez at Scout Park on Oak Street near the home. Around 10:42 a.m., McKinley began questioning 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.

Fisher arrived minutes later. After Gonzalez did not answer any of their questions, the two officers began to apprehend him. After failing to place him in handcuffs, McKinley and Fisher took Gonzalez to the ground. Bodycam footage shows Fisher and McKinley using their body weight to pin Gonzalez down in the prone position. Gonzalez struggled to breathe. Leahy arrived minutes later, and he used his body weight to control Gonzalez’s legs. After about five minutes Gonzalez became unresponsive. He was rushed to a local hospital where he died.

In the Alameda County Coroner Bureau’s autopsy report, released on Dec. 10, 2021, Chief Forensic Pathologist Vivian Snyder ruled Gonzalez’s death a homicide (“Coroner’s Reports Released” Dec. 14). However, the report also states “the toxic effects of methamphetamine” was the leading cause in Gonzalez’s death.

“It is apparent Mr. Gonzalez experienced cardiopulmonary arrest because of multiple factors,” Snyder wrote in the report. “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. Gonzalez Arenales’ heart,” according to the report.

The Alameda County District Attorney is still determining whether to file criminal charges against the officers for their use of force. The City of Alameda has also opened an independent investigation into the incident.

The officers have been on leave since Gonzalez's death.