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3 California police officers charged in the death of a man they restrained while in custody, prosecutor says

By Taylor Romine and Aya Elamroussi, CNN

(CNN) — Three California police officers have been charged in the death of a man in their custody in 2021, prosecutors announced Thursday – two years after the district attorney’s office said it would not bring criminal charges against the officers.

Eric McKinley, James Fisher and Cameron Leahy were each charged with one count of involuntary manslaughter in the April 19, 2021, death of Mario Gonzalez Arenales, Alameda County District Attorney Pamela Price announced Thursday.

The case is one of several previously cleared investigations involving police shootings and in-custody deaths that were reopened by a new Public Accountability Unit announced by Price in January 2023, shortly after she took office.

An investigation by the district attorney’s office under different leadership did not charge the officers, citing the initial autopsy determining the leading cause of death was “the toxic effects of methamphetamine,” prosecutors said in a 2022 report.

A second autopsy “attributed Mr. Gonzalez’s death to ‘a result of Restraint Asphyxiation,’” the district attorney’s office said in a statement Thursday.

“There is no new evidence. This is a blatantly political prosecution,” Alison Berry Wilkinson, an attorney for the three officers, told CNN in a statement.

“We are confident a jury will see through this charade and exonerate the officers, just as the two prior independent investigations did,” the statement said.

Leahy and McKinley remain officers with the Alameda Police Department, while Fisher is currently a deputy at the Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Office, Wilkinson said.

CNN has reached out to the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office and the Alameda Police Department for comment.

The incident happened a day before former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was convicted of murder in George Floyd’s death and against the backdrop of widespread demonstrations over police use of force.

McKinley, Fisher and Leahy encountered Gonzalez, 26, while responding to a call that a person was “acting strangely and talking to himself,” according to the 2022 report from the district attorney’s office.

The officers “lawfully attempted to detain” Gonzalez and controlled his arms, back, and legs as his arms were cuffed behind his back, the report says. Gonzalez “was still resisting with his entire body, including his legs,” even after being handcuffed, according to the report.

The officers placed Gonzalez on his stomach on the ground for about five minutes before he became unresponsive, body camera footage released by Alameda Police Department showed. He was later pronounced dead at a hospital.

What the video shows

The body camera footage shows the officers found Gonzalez outside, just off a road in a residential area.

It shows Gonzalez talking with police and hesitating to give officers his name for roughly 10 minutes before officers attempt to restrain him.

Gonzalez appears to be incoherent and continues to resist arrest. This leads officers to take him to the ground and restrain him face down as he struggles and yells.

Based on the video footage, it is unclear what level of pressure the officers used.

“We have no weight on his chest, nothing,” one officer says to the others as they attempt to keep him restrained. A second appears to warn, “No weight, no weight.”

After about five minutes of being pinned down, Gonzalez appears to lose consciousness. Seconds after Gonzalez stops moving or making sounds, a police officer says Gonzalez is unresponsive. Officers roll Gonzalez over, and begin CPR, the video shows.

Minutes after CPR starts, an officer declared there was “no pulse,” the video shows. Gonzalez was later transported to a hospital.

“Our heartfelt condolences go out to his loved ones,” the city of Alameda said in a news release at the time.

CNN’s Alisha Ebrahimji and Alexandra Meeks contributed to this report.

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