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One day before a jury found a Minneapolis police officer guilty of murdering George Floyd, Mario Arenales Gonzalez was killed by Alameda, California police who restrained him in a prone position with weight on him.

As the police officers’ body cam videos were released, many can’t help but notice the striking similarities between Mario’s death and the murder of George Floyd. The main common denominator between the two cases is how both of these men died. In this article, we’ll provide an outline of events that led up to Mario’s death while in police custody, then compare his death to the George Floyd case, and finally explain what restraint asphyxia is and why police departments need to reassess training and reform these torturous practices.

What happened to Mario Gonzalez on the day he died?

Mario Gonzalez was a 26-year-old Latino man killed by Alameda, California, police officers on
April 19, 2021, while he was unarmed, minding his own business, and no threat to anyone. Here
is a breakdown of what happened that tragic day that resulted in Mario’s death:

  • Alameda police are dispatched to a local park after receiving 911 calls that Mario appears
    to be disoriented or intoxicated, has two drug store baskets with alcohol, and appears to be
    breaking the security tags. One of the callers admits that Mario isn’t doing anything wrong, but his presence in a public park was scaring the caller’s wife. Instead of informing the callers that their reports did not require a law enforcement response, or requesting a non-law enforcement crisis response, the dispatcher sends three police officer to the scene. (3)
  • One office arrives and questions Mario. He learns Mario is not a danger to himself or other. He radios another officer to check the drug store to see if they have had any “walk offs,” people stealing merchandise. The second officer responds within minutes, “negative” then heads to the park. So all officers also know they have no probably cause to believe Mario is committing any crime.
  • As we can see on the officers’ body cam video, Mario is very calm but appears confused and not to understand everything the officers are saying.
  • When Mario doesn’t produce his identification to the officers, they grab his arm, twist it behind his back, and put both of his wrists into painful control holds high on his back. Mario struggles passively, and the officers force him face down in the dirt.
  • The officers put their weight on Mario’s back and shoulders, and at one point appear to have a knee on Mario’s neck. While Mario is struggling to breathe, one of the officers says that Mario is lifting the officer’s entire body weight while the officer is on top of him.
  • The officers then allow a civilian to insert himself into the situation and hold down Mario’s legs.
  • With all of this weight on top of him, Mario struggles and gasps for air, saying, “I didn’t do nothing, okay?”
  • The officers continue to pin Mario face down in the dirt and put their weight on him, for minutes after he has been completely handcuffed with both hands behind his back.
  • As Mario’s struggles weaken, one of the officers asks, “think we can roll him on his side?” and the other answers, “I don’t wanna lose what I got, man.”
  • After more than five minutes of this prone, weighted restraint, Mario becomes unresponsive.
  • After Mario is unresponsive, the officers then roll him onto his side, then his back, check for a
    pulse, and begin chest compressions.
  • The officers administer at least two doses of Narcan, which is intended to counteract opiate overdoses, even though there was no reason to believe Mario was overdosing on opioids.
  • Mario Gonzalez remains unresponsive and is later taken to the hospital and pronounced dead.
  • The autopsy and toxicology reports have not been released to the public. Mario died of asphyxia due to being pinned face-down on the ground with officers on top of him. It would have felt like “drowning on dry land” for him. (3)

Why Mario’s death sounds eerily similar to George Floyd

Julia Sherwin, of Haddad & Sherwin, LLP, said, “his death is eerily similar to that of George Floyd, who died in Minneapolis police custody on May 25, 2020.” (2) Ms. Sherwin provided consultation to Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison and his special prosecutors, to help them win their criminal case against the officers who murdered George Floyd.

Mario Gonzalez, like George Floyd, was unarmed and was no threat to anyone. The Minneapolis Police Department issued a false press release saying the officers determined Mr. Floyd was in “medical distress” and had him transported to the hospital, where he died. In the case of Mario Gonzalez, the Alameda Police Department also issued a misleading press release, claiming that the officers attempted to detain Mario and that a “physical altercation ensued” before his alleged “medical emergency.” However, the video released shows no altercation taking place.

George Floyd died from being restrained face down on the pavement, not only held down by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin putting his left knee in Mr. Floyd’s neck, but also Chauvin putting his weight and his right knee on Mr. Floyd, along with officers Thomas Lane and J. Alexander Kueng putting their weight on Mr. Floyd’s back and legs as well, for over 9 minutes. Mario Gonzalez was forced face-down on the ground by officers, putting their weight on him for over five minutes, even after he was handcuffed, until he died. Both men died from restraint asphyxia. For decades, law enforcement has known that the use of prone restraint, especially with weight on a person’s back, impairs a person’s ability to breathe and can kill him. Decent police departments around the country train their officers to avoid prone restraint, and to refrain from putting their weight on people whom they are restraining in a prone position. (1)

What is restraint asphyxia?

Restraint asphyxia can occur when police restrain a person face down on the ground (prone) and put weight on the person’s back, neck, or even limbs – sometimes, but not always, after there has been a struggle or use of a Taser. Sometimes police officers violate their training and fail to place a restrained person on their side after being handcuffed on the ground to allow them to breath. Other times, their police departments fail to give them proper training to avoid this deadly tactic.

The improper restraints can impair the person’s ability to breathe and can lead to death by asphyxia. The person being restrained will often try to tell the officers that they cannot breathe like Eric Garner did before the NYPD killed him and like several of our clients have done. Restraint asphyxia is sometimes called positional asphyxia or compression asphyxia. Death by restraint asphyxia is often misdiagnosed as a sudden heart attack or as “excited delirium” – a junk science cause of death reserved for cases in which law enforcement or mental health workers kill people by prone, weighted restraint.

It is not uncommon for the person killed to be intoxicated, overweight, or mentally ill. Restraint asphyxia attorneys need to be very skilled and experienced to prove a restraint asphyxia case. Such cases require extensive medical evidence and expertise with law enforcement and wrongful death cases.

The experience, creativity, and aggressive representation of the restraint asphyxia attorneys at Haddad & Sherwin LLP have obtained justice for many families who have lost loved ones due to restraint asphyxia caused by improper police, security, or jail restraints. Our restraint asphyxia case victories usually include compensation for families plus reforms – new police department policies and training to prevent similar tragedies in the future.

Civil rights cases involving law enforcement can be extremely complicated. Lawyers who are not experienced experts in this work will often lose their clients’ cases to the many special law enforcement defenses and trapdoors that await. Haddad & Sherwin LLP partners are experienced Civil Rights – Trial Lawyers and national leaders among civil rights attorneys.

Highly rated by their peers, Haddad & Sherwin LLP has won numerous large jury verdicts and settlements for their seriously injured clients. Please take a look at their results, reforms, and attorney profiles on this website.

Sources:
1. Buncombe, A. “George Floyd anniversary: Mario Gonzalez killed in a police hold that was like ‘drowning on dry land’”. Independent. https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/mario-gonzalez-george-floyd-anniversary-b1852609.html. 2021, 24 May.
2. Griffith, J.  “Death of California man who was pinned face down by police draws comparisons to that of George Floyd”. NBC News. https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/death-california-man-who-was-
pinned-facedown-police-draws-comparisons-n1265689. 2021, 28 Apr.
3. Thompson, D. and Rodriguez, O.R. “Deadly California arrest carries echoes of George Floyd case”.
Associated Press. https://apnews.com/article/mario-gonzalez-alameda-police-790d28e19f3d5570910ede6263fb787f. 2021, 28 Apr.

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