DA reopens Mario Gonzalez case against Alameda police

The Alameda County District Attorney on Tuesday announced that she is reopening the case against three Alameda police officers who were involved in the death of Mario Gonzalez – and were cleared by her predecessor

District Attorney Pamela Price said in a statement she will examine whether the officers acted criminally during a confrontation with Gonzalez in April 2021, where the 26-year-old was pinned to face-down on the ground for more than five minutes.

It's one of eight police shooting cases Price announced she would reexamine, fulfilling a campaign promise to hold law enforcement accountable. 

Last year, then-District Attorney Nancy O'Malley cleared the Alameda officers:, James Fisher, Cameron Leahy and Eric McKinley, of any wrongdoing.

O'Malley said she couldn't prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the officers acted unlawfully.

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

An investigation commissioned by the city last year found the officers didn’t violate Police Department policy.

Alison Berry Wilkinson, who represented the Alameda officers at the time of the criminal investigation, said in a statement: "We are confident the newly elected District Attorney will conclude, as did her predecessor and every investigating agency to date, that the officers actions while taking Mr. Gonzalez into custody were reasonable, necessary, and lawful, and that his tragic death was the result of drug toxicity, not misconduct."

Two civil rights lawsuits were filed separately on behalf of Gonzalez's mother, Edith Arenales, and his young son against the three involved cops. 

Both suits alleged that McKinley, Fisher and Leahy "used excessive force against (Gonzalez), and unjustified deadly force that included a suffocating restraint" that caused the young father to die from restraint asphyxia.

Price's decision to reopen the case follows on her campaign promise to hold law enforcement officers accountable for unlawful conduct.

Adante Pointer, who's representing Arenales in the civil suit, said Gonzalez's family is hopeful for a different outcome.

"Happy to see that there's going to be a fresh set of eyes taking a look at Gonzalez's case given the paltry track record of Price's predecessor who seemed to find no faulty in any police officers' misconduct," he said. 

The new probe doesn't mean that the district attorney will bring charges against the three officers. 

Price's office is reviewing roughly seven other police-involved or in-custody death cases. 

Two of those cases involve separate fatal shootings by Oakland Officer Hector Jimenez. In July 2008, Jimenez killed 27-year-old Mack "Jody" Woodfox, who was shot in the back while running away from a traffic stop.

Seven months earlier, Jimenez and another officer shot and killed Andrew Moppin-Buckskin, 20, who also ran away after a traffic stop.

In both cases, Jimenez told investigators that he believed the suspects were reaching for guns in their waistbands. They are both unarmed. 

Former District Attorney Nancy O’Malley reviewed both cases and found the officers involved couldn’t be charged with criminal wrongdoing.

Jiminez was fired in 2009 for violating Oakland police use-of-force policies but he was reinstated after an arbitrator found the shooting was lawful, said Michael Rains, the attorney whose firm represented Jimenez during the arbitration process.

Rains told the San Francisco Chronicle he was skeptical that the re-examination of the Woodfox case would find "proof beyond a reasonable doubt" that the shooting wasn’t justified.

The decision to re-examine both killings was "ridiculous," Sgt. Barry Donelan, president of the Oakland Police Officers association, told the East Bay Times. 

"These cases have been investigated from every angle inside and out by multiple agencies, both criminally and administratively, and the officers have been cleared," Donelan said. "For the last decade and a half, this officer has continued to work on the job protecting the residents of Oakland valiantly."

The DA’s Public Accountability Unit will review the 2021 death of Vinetta Martin in Santa Rita Jail, which was classified as a suicide, and the fatal shootings of Cody Chavez by Pleasanton police in 2022; Caleb Smith by Hayward officers in 2021; Joshua Gloria by Fremont officers in 2021 and Agustin Gonsalez by Hayward police in 2019.

"These reports were released at the 11th hour, just weeks before I took office. As the top prosecutor, I want to give each case a thorough review to ensure justice has not been forgotten," Price said. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.