Civil rights group seeks Justice Department investigation of Mario Gonzalez’s death in police custody

Alameda police officers try to revive Mario Gonzalez of Oakland after police restrained him, prone on the ground. April 19, 2021

The nation’s oldest Latino civil rights organization has sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland, asking that the FBI investigate the in-custody police death of Mario Gonzalez

On Friday, the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) issued a press release with an excerpt of their letter. They say they expect local law enforcement, City of Alameda and the Alameda County district attorney’s office investigations to focus on the police use of force.

LULAC wants the U.S. Department of Justice to see if Gonzalez’s civil rights were violated. 

Gonzalez, 26, died on April 19 in an Alameda park when police responded to calls of a man said to be under the influence and loitering. Police initially said he was a "possible" suspect in a theft.

The police-worn body-camera footage from the incident was released this week. It has brought on criticism of the police department and sparked the ire of Gonzalez’s family members as well as community activists. 

"Unfortunately, the Black and Hispanic communities experience similar mistreatment by our law enforcement agencies. We expect that all law enforcement-initiated deaths of unarmed subjects be a priority of our government through investigation and in their prevention," LULAC’s letter read.  

The body-cam video shows how quickly the situation unfolded in a matter of 20 minutes. The officers and Gonzalez are cordial enough to one another at first, but Gonzalez, who appeared disoriented or intoxicated, was soon pinned face down on the ground with police kneeling on his back and shoulder at times for nearly five minutes. Police attempt to detain him, but he eventually becomes unresponsive while police have him pinned down. 

The reason for being detained in the first place has come under fire.

Supporters: Why was Mario Gonzalez detained by Alameda police in the first place?

"We cannot allow this dangerous trend to continue across our country. Law enforcement must understand that they are here to ensure public safety, not to pose a deadly threat themselves to civilians, in particular communities of color. Police report they received a call about Gonzalez ‘talking to himself’ in a public park but that same caller stated Gonzalez was not committing any crime," California LULAC State Director, Yvonne Gonzalez-Duncan said.

"Officers arriving on the scene had several minutes, ample time to see that Gonzalez was experiencing some type of mental episode but at no time was he seen making any aggressive moves towards them," Gonzalez-Duncan added. 

She said the officers failed to de-escalate the situation and that the struggle with officers quickly spiraled out of control. 

An attorney for the officers involved told KTVU this week that Gonzalez resisted officers and that they never intended to take him to the ground, arguing that it was Gonzalez’s own momentum that caused everyone to fall. The officers have been placed on paid administrative leave. 

Rallies have been held in support of Gonzalez and his family. He was the father of a 4-year-old and the sole caretaker of his 22-year-old brother who has autism. 

"A police badge is not a license to violate a person’s civil rights nor should it be a shield from justice when those rights are violated," Gonzalez-Duncan said.

LULAC said they will wait for a reasonable amount of time to see if due process begins, but sternly said they will not wait indefinitely.

Read LULAC's letter to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland: