ALAMEDA, Calif. — The death of a California man in police custody following an altercation that was captured on body camera video was a ruled a homicide, a coroner’s report released Friday shows.
The April 19 death of Mario Gonzalez, 26, was caused by "the toxic effects of methamphetamine," according to an autopsy report from the Alameda County Coroner's Bureau. The stress of the altercation with three police officers combined with alcoholism and morbid obesity contributed to his death, the report says.
In an interview Friday, a lawyer representing Gonzalez’s family, Julia Sherwin, said the report shows that the methamphetamine found in his system was a “recreational” amount and “clearly” not enough to kill him.
“What killed him was the Alameda police officers forcing him down in the dirt, putting their body weight on him and pinning him down,” she said.
It isn’t clear if the Alameda County District Attorney’s office, which is investigating the death, will bring charges against any of the officers. An office spokeswoman said Friday that the probe is ongoing and declined to comment further.
A lawyer representing the officers did not immediately respond to a request for comment. In an interview with Oakland TV station, KTVU, attorney Alison Berry Wilkinson said it was the “toxic level of drugs not the actions of the officers” that killed Gonzalez.
“There’s nothing in the report that any of the techniques used by the officers were unreasonable or excessive,” she told the station. “They did a tremendous job under difficult circumstances.”
In a statement, Alameda Police Chief Nishant Joshi called Gonzalez's death a "tragedy" and said that Friday's reports add "to that pain."
"As Chief of Police, it’s my duty to complete a thorough investigation and take the actions necessary to ensure the safety of all members of our community," he said. "The officers who were involved in the death of Mr. Gonzalez are on administrative leave and their peace officer powers are suspended until this process is completed."
The chief’s initial statement said their “peace officer rights” were suspended but it was later corrected powers.
Gonzalez, who had a young son and was the main caretaker for a brother with autism, died after police in the Northern California city near Oakland pinned him to the ground facedown for more than five minutes. The altercation was recorded on police body camera video and captured a dazed Gonzalez struggling to answer questions before the officers try to restrain him.
As they do, Gonzalez can be seen resisting as the officers take him to the ground. Lying face down, Gonzalez can be heard shouting and grunting while police ask for his full name and date of birth.
"We're going to take care of you, OK," one can be heard saying, adding: "I think you just had too much to drink."
One officer placed an elbow on his neck and a knee on his shoulder; another appeared to put his knee on Gonzalez's back. Gonzalez can be heard gasping for air, saying: "I didn't do nothing, OK?"
After roughly five minutes, Gonzalez appears to lose consciousness. He was later pronounced dead at a local hospital.
Authorities had been called to the park where the confrontation occurred after someone reported that he appeared drunk and disoriented.
Gonzalez's family filed a claim against the city of Alameda earlier this year accusing the officers of excessive force and notifying authorities that they intend to file a lawsuit.
Sherwin said Friday that the family was waiting for the autopsy before filing the suit and plans to do so "very soon."