Man's family sues Sacramento police and security guards after death in custody

Mario Matthews was tackled after he allegedly trespassed into Golden 1 Center, home of NBA's Kings.

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By David K. Li

The parents of a California man who died after a security guard allegedly put a knee on his neck filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the security company and Sacramento police.

Mario Matthew, 39, was "unreasonably restrained" by private security guards and later responding officers inside of Golden 1 Center, home of the NBA's Sacramento Kings, on July 2, according to a federal lawsuit filed Tuesday by the man's parents, Elizabeth Avila and Mark Matthews.

"Mario was slammed face-down to the concrete floor, handcuffed with his hands behind his back and then with maximum restraints applied to him," according to the complaint, which named the city of Sacramento and Universal Protection Service as defendants.

"Mario was restrained face-down for 20 minutes with as many as four people on top of him. For four of those minutes, a security guard had a knee on Mario’s neck. Mario displayed heavily labored breathing for most of this time before becoming non-responsive."

The alleged manner of death bears similarities to that of George Floyd, the Minneapolis man who died in police custody in May, triggering worldwide protests against police brutality. Floyd died after a police officer put a knee on his neck for about eight minutes.

"The manner in which the defendants seized Mario was unlawful, unreasonable and evidenced inadequate training regarding positional asphyxia," the lawsuit said.

Exhibition basketball games were played inside the arena on July 1, followed by a free concert just outside Golden 1 that Matthews attended, according to the lawsuit.

Then at about 3:30 a.m. on July 2, a shirtless Matthew entered the arena through a propped open door and he walked on to the basketball floor, according to the lawsuit and security footage released by Sacramento police.

The 5-foot-7, 125-pound Matthews flopped on the center court logo and appeared to be feign playing playing basketball before two security guards chased him off the floor, according to the suit and footage.

Surveillance video of Mario Matthews being detained in the Golden 1 Center in Sacramentio, Calif.Sacramento Police Dept.

He was eventually tackled in a narrow hallway and restrained until responding Sacramento police arrived, video showed.

One of the security guards "used his right knee to apply pressure to the side of Mario’s neck for approximately four and half minutes," the lawsuit said.

Responding officers could be heard on security video calling for "max restraints" to completely immobilize Matthews.

Matthews' feet were pushed "toward the small of his back, causing his knees to bend, and applied continuing pressure," his parents' lawyers said.

"As the maximum restraints were being applied, or within a few seconds thereof, Mario became non-responsive," the lawsuit claimed.

He was taken to Sutter General Hospital and taken off life support on July 4 of last year.

The lawsuit claimed that the "Sacramento County Coroner acknowledged that the restraint was a cause of Mario’s death."

A spokeswoman for the coroner told NBC News on Thursday that Matthews' cause of death was "acute methamphetamine intoxication in association with physical restraint and excited state."

And a representative for the Sacramento City Attorney's Office said in a statement on Thursday that it has "received the lawsuit and is in the process of evaluating it as well as the appropriate next steps.”

He declined further comment.

A spokesman for Sacramento police said: "The investigation into that incident is still active."

Vanessa Showalter, a spokeswoman for Allied Universal, the parent company of Universal Protection Service, said the guards acted appropriately and called Matthews a "trespasser acting erratically."

"The individual refused to comply with instructions to leave the facility and appeared to threaten" the guards, according to a statement from Showalter on Friday. "They attempted to detain him pending the arrival of the police. He continued to actively resist efforts to restrain him until he was taken into custody by Sacramento police."

The lawsuit did not specify what the plaintiffs sought in damages.