3 Alameda officers charged for Mario Gonzalez's in-custody death

Alameda County District Attorney Pamela Price announced in a Thursday evening news conference that her office's Public Accountability Unit has filed involuntary manslaughter charges against the three Alameda police officers involved in the April 2021 in-custody death of Mario Gonzalez. 

Gonzalez, who was 26 at the time of death, was pinned facedown on the ground for more than five minutes. The officers were responding to a call involving a man behaving oddly in a public park on Oak Street. Officers then learned that Gonzalez was a suspect in a shoplifting incident and attempted to detain him. 

Gonzalez later died at the hospital. 

Price reopened the case against the officers in February of last year. She created the accountability unit shortly after being elected. 

The unit was tasked with reviewing the Gonzalez case and others to determine whether police acted criminally.  

The previous D.A., Nancy O'Malley, had cleared the three officers involved of any wrongdoing. The officers were identified as Cameron Leahy, James Fisher and Eric McKinley. 

The county coroner ruled Gonzalez's death a homicide, concluding he had a heart attack caused by methamphetamine use and from being restrained by officers. 

A second autopsy commissioned by a civil rights firm said Gonzalez died of restraint asphyxia after the officers put their body weight on him. That autopsy concluded he did not die from drugs in his system and that he did not have a lethal amount of the substance in his body. 

"What the public should know is that I am walled off from the case. I will not be participating and have not participated in the ultimate decision about the case," Price said at the news conference. She indicated this was her decision based on a technical matter and that she was not able to elaborate. When a reporter pressed her on the issue, she said, "There are cases and times, many cases, most cases in this county I don't make decisions about. So it's a matter of charging and how the team chooses to proceed and I respect their process." 

Alameda County District Attorney Pamela Price announces charges against three Alameda police officers for the in-custody death of Mario Gonzalez. 

Price said the case is now before the court and that the Public Accountability Unit has a lot of work before them. "I will say this is not a great day for the City of Alameda, for the County of Alameda or for the family of Mr. Gonzalez."

Price took questions from reporters but said she could not comment on the pending litigation. She said the officers have not been taken into custody. 

In a press release, the D.A.'s office said one of the three officers involved was no longer employed by the City of Alameda. The other two officers currently employed by the city have been placed on administrative leave. 

Fisher left the department to work as a Contra Costa County sheriff's deputy. 

The officers charged could face up to four-years in state prison. 

SEE ALSO: 2nd lawsuit filed following death of Mario Gonzalez after encounter with Alameda police

Speaking on accountability, she said, "If people don't believe that police officers or law enforcement can be held accountable, then witnesses won't cooperate. We can't do our job without witnesses," said Price. "We won't be able to administer justice if the community doesn't trust that the system is going to work for everyone on an equal basis."

Price said she is working to rebuild trust in a system that has not always been fair, particularly to the community of Alameda County. She reiterated her stance on social justice, despite the news that she is facing a recall election this year. A campaign movement to have the D.A. ousted has enough signatures to have Price recalled, according to the registrar of voters.  

The attorney, Alison Berry Wilkinson, who represents Cameron Leahy, said this was a blatantly political prosecution. 

"The District Attorney waited until the 11th hour before the statute of limitations was set to expire to bring these charges just days after it was confirmed she would face recall.  There is no new evidence," the attorney said in a statement. 

Wilkinson said the officers' actions were, "reasonable, necessary and lawful." 


DA declines to charge Alameda police for death of Mario Gonzalez

The Alameda County District Attorney's Office on Thursday determined there would be no charges against the officers involved in the death of 26-year-old Mario Gonzalez, according to the officers' attorney.

"His tragic death was the result of drug toxicity, not criminal misconduct. We are confident a jury will see through this charade and exonerate the officers, just as the two prior independent investigations did," the statement continued. 

The three-year statute of limitations on manslaughter charges was set to expire on Friday, which marks the third anniversary since Gonzalez's death. 

A vigil is planned for Friday with family members, including Gonzalez's mother, community organizers and activists. The vigil is set for 5:15 p.m. at Scout Park in Alameda. 

Civil rights attorney Adante Pointer represents Gonzalez's mother, Edith Arenales. He said Gonzalez's mother is grateful for the decision to charge the officers. He said having a fresh set of eyes on the case is helping to rectify some of the suffering Gonzalez's mother has felt over the years. 

"Finally, Mario has a shot at justice and his son doesn't have to go on living without his father thinking that no one is going to be held accountable for his death." 

Pointer could not say with certainty whether any new evidence was brought forward in this case. 

KTVU's Mike Mibach contributed to this report.