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

Supporters of a man who died after being handcuffed face down on the ground by Alameda police want to know one simple question: Why was he detained in the first place? 

"The video clearly shows that there was no reason to detain Mario," said Gerardo Gonzalez in a statement that was crafted with help from CURYJ, or Communities United for Restorative Youth Justice, in Oakland. "He was nonviolent and even the 911 caller knew Mario was not a threat. At no point was Mario a threat to himself or to the officers. There was absolutely no reason to pile on top of Mario. There was absolutely no reason to pin him down with such force that they murdered him." 

Gerardo Gonzales is also in support of a petition for Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O'Malley to charge the officers for the April 19 death of his 26-year-old brother, Mario Gonzalez. He and activists have also been working to reach city council members to see what more can be done in the wake of his death. 

Gerardo Gonzalez's question comes at a time when many in the nation are demanding that society reimagine policing in the United States, which would mean sending in crisis counselors and emergency workers to help people in distress, instead of armed law enforcement. 

What prompted police to respond in the first place was a neighbor who had called 911 saying that he didn't want Mario Gonzalez in his yard. Mario Gonzalez had shown up at an Alameda park intoxicated, possibly with stolen bottles of alcohol. 

Police at first tried to assess Mario Gonzalez's condition by simply speaking with him. But three officers and a parking enforcement officer ended up putting him in handcuffs while kneeling on his back for almost five minutes.

He died at the scene, and police had initially said he died of a "medical emergency," omitting key details of what happened. Those details were made public on Tuesday when police released an hour's worth of body cam video. The video shows that while Mario Gonzalez wasn't happily letting officers place him in handcuffs, he also wasn't threatening to them, either. 

Interim Alameda Police Chief Randy Fenn told KTVU that while watching the video is "troubling," the family's accusation of murder is 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."

And the officers' attorney, Alison Berry Wilkinson, said that the police felt like they had to arrest Mario Gonzalez "for his own safety" because he can be seen drunk, stumbling around near tree stumps at the park and they thought he might harm himself. 

Asked why the officers couldn't have called a family member to pick him up or let him sit on a bench to wait it out instead of restraining him,  Wilkinson said those approaches would not have likely worked out because of his disorientation. 

But there was no need to arrest him, and for such minor offenses, in the first place, according to his family and supporters. 

"Police are not allowed to arrest people to keep from tripping," said the Gonzalez family attorney, Julia Sherwin. "They wanted to keep him from tripping so they killed him instead? That's utterly ridiculous." 

Gerardo Gonzalez also noted that the videos show that his brother repeated saying, "thank you," to the officers and he also apologized for unknown reasons. 

"If police managed to turn a simple situation like this into a fatality, how can we have faith in their competency to respond to an actual emergency?" Gerardo Gonzalez asked rhetorically. "The people who are supposed to keep us safe, are actually the biggest public safety threat by using unnecessary force. What happened to Mario could have been a simple wellness check."

Lisa Fernandez is a reporter for KTVU. Email Lisa at or call her at 510-874-0139. Or follow her on Twitter @ljfernandez