Officers in Alameda death used "lowest degree of force," attorney says

An attorney for three Alameda police officers on leave in the wake of the in-custody death of Mario Gonzalez said Wednesday that they used the "lowest degree of force possible" as he struggled with them.

  "These officers were here to help," said attorney Alison Berry Wilkinson. 

The three officers were trying to detain Gonzalez, 26, at a small park near South Shore Center when Gonzalez, who weighs about 250 pounds, pulled the officers to the ground and struggled with them, Wilkinson said.

Gonzalez soon lost consciousness and died. The cause of his death is under investigation.

"These officers used the lowest degree of force possible given the intensity of Mr. Gonzalez's efforts to evade their grasp," Wilkinson said.

She said Gonzalez was disoriented and intoxicated and that the officers had to take action to ensure his safety and that of the public.

"They couldn't leave him there. He could fall. They were very concerned about him falling," she said.

She said Officer James Fisher, a 10-year veteran, put his knee on Gonzalez's back.

"That is being used as a balance point, much like you would put your hand and rest it on a railing as you go down the stairs," Wilkinson said.

"There was never a point in time where any officer's knee was on Mr. Gonzalez's neck, nor was there a time when they were pressing down hard enough on his body to cause him not to breathe," she said.

Officer Fisher, as well as officers Eric McKinley and Cameron Leahy, both of whom have three years on the force, are all on paid administrative leave.

Gerardo Gonzalez said the officers murdered his brother.

"The truth is that he was killed by the Alameda Police Department," he said. "It was heartbreaking, to see my mother having to see her firstborn's final moments."

Randy Fenn, interim Alameda police chief said of the police body-camera footage that was released Tuesday, "It's troubling, it's hard to watch. My condolences of course go to Mr. Gonzalez's mother and family."

But as to the family's murder accusation, Fenn said, "I think that's a pretty strong charge, that there's not enough evidence to support that charge right now. That's what the investigation is for. We don't even know the cause of death right now."

He  urged the public to wait for the results of investigations into the death by the Alameda County sheriff's office, the district attorney and Louise Renne, the former San Francisco city attorney hired by the city of Alameda to conduct an independent probe.

"Video only tells part of the story, so we need the entire investigation to understand whether or not the actions were legal, consistent with training and within policy," Fenn said.

 Wilkinson said, "All they wanted to do was to get him to a safe spot. They didn't have any intention of the events going in the direction that they did."