Mario Gonzalez Died Of ‘Restraint Asphyxiation’ By Police, New Autopsy Finds

An independent autopsy confirmed what Mario Gonzalez’s family had maintained all along: The 26-year-old Latino father died last year because Alameda, California, police officers knelt on his back for several minutes until he stopped breathing — not, as the Alameda County coroner’s report had implied, because of meth in his system.

The new autopsy results, released Wednesday, said that Gonzalez died on April 19, 2021, from “restraint asphyxiation,” according to forensic pathologist Bennet Omalu.

The independent autopsy, which was requested by the family’s attorneys, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, countered the report from the Alameda County coroner’s office last year, which had called the death a homicide but listed the principal cause as “toxic effects of methamphetamine.” The report included under other “significant conditions” the “physiological stress of altercation and restraint,” as well as “obesity” and “alcoholism.”

On April 19, 2021, police in the Bay Area city knelt on Mario’s back for nearly four minutes, until he died. Body camera footage, released later that month after an outcry from the family, showed officers approach Mario, alone in a park with bottles of alcohol nearby, after a neighbor called about someone being intoxicated. Mario is shown on the video calmly speaking with the officers for nearly nine minutes. Then the cops put Mario’s hands behind his back and pinned him facedown. At least two officers knelt on him until he stopped breathing and lost his pulse.

The independent autopsy found that, “if not for his asphyxial brain injury, Mr. Gonzalez, more likely than not, would not have died.” It noted that most people who take methamphetamine do not die of it and that the meth in this case was “not the underlying cause of death.” As the coroner’s report found, this autopsy also confirmed that the manner of death was homicide.

“The independent autopsy confirms what we all saw with our own eyes,” Julia Sherwin, an attorney for the Gonzalez family, said in a statement to the Chronicle. “Meth didn’t kill Mario, the officers did.”

Mario's mother, Edith, and brother Jerry speak at a vigil April 19, one year after Mario died during an arrest in Alameda, California.
Mario’s mother, Edith, and brother Jerry speak at a vigil April 19, one year after Mario died during an arrest in Alameda, California.

Sarah Ruiz-Grossman/HuffPost

Earlier this month, the Alameda County district attorney announced there would be no criminal charges for the officers. All three remain on paid leave.

At a vigil last week on the first anniversary of Gonzalez’s death, his younger brother, Jerry, spoke to a crowd of dozens of mourners in the park where he was killed.

He said the lack of accountability for the police officers was “bullcrap.”

“We know that what happened wasn’t right,” Jerry said. “It’s been a long year, just the way we’ve been treated by the legal process.”

“My brother was a human,” he added. “And he needs to find his justice one way or another.”

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