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Police Bodycam Footage Released After Man Died During Arrest In Alameda, Calif.


Police in the Northern California city of Alameda released bodycam footage late yesterday. It shows police pinning a 26-year-old Latino man to the ground for nearly five minutes during an arrest last week, an arrest that ended in the man's death. Mario Gonzalez stopped breathing and died during that April 19 arrest by police in a park in Alameda on the east side of the San Francisco Bay. Police there claim Gonzalez likely experienced a, quote, "medical emergency." His family calls it murder, and they want the officers prosecuted. Joining us with more on the case is NPR's Eric Westervelt.

Hey, Eric.


KELLY: So I guess the bodycam footage lasts about an hour. What do we see on it?

WESTERVELT: Well, it's hard to watch, but it shows the incident from two officers' bodycams. It shows Alameda police officers kneeling on Mario Gonzalez for close to five minutes. He was suspected of stealing some booze from a local Walgreens store, and someone called police that, you know, he was loitering in a park and acting strangely. And the video shows that Gonzalez was actually pretty calm, if a little out of it, when officers arrived. But they soon sort of put him on the ground on his stomach. An officer puts an elbow on his neck and knee and on his shoulder and presses down.

Gonzalez was a large, you know, heavyset man. And he quickly appears to be gurgling and in distress as the officers continue to keep him pinned down, you know, using their elbows, hands and knees. And, you know, right before Gonzalez stops breathing, an officer says on the video, you know, you think we can roll him on his side? And the other officer answers, well, I don't want to lose what I've got. Gonzalez soon loses consciousness. Attempts to revive him, Mary Louise, with CPR failed, and he was pronounced dead shortly after at a local hospital.

KELLY: So how does the video align - or not - with the account that Alameda Police have put out? In press releases on Twitter, they have called - as we said, they called his death the result of a medical emergency. They said it followed a scuffle.

WESTERVELT: Yeah. I mean, there's questions about whether there really was, you know, even a scuffle. An autopsy is still pending. And that, of course, will be key. But the so-called medical emergency may well have been, you know, these officers' pressure on Gonzalez's back. It's not, you know, his neck area like in the George Floyd murder. But the officers' pressure on Gonzalez, you know, may well have played a central role in his death. You know, his brother Gerardo said - and I'm quoting here - "The police killed my brother in the same manner they killed George Floyd."

KELLY: And have - has law enforcement responded to that, to the narrative the family is advancing?

WESTERVELT: Well, they're saying, look, wait for one of - you know, some of these three investigations that are underway. The officers involved are on paid leave. They also say wait for the autopsy. More has to be known. I spoke with interim police chief Randy Fern (ph) just before going on air here. He said, look, we're committed to transparency. He also told me, you know, wait for these investigations. But when I asked Chief Fenn, you know, in the video, Chief, do you ever see Mr. Gonzalez getting physically or verbally abusive or violent with your officers? And the chief told me, no, I do not.

KELLY: NPR's Eric Westervelt.

Thank you, Eric.

WESTERVELT: You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eric Westervelt is a San Francisco-based correspondent for NPR's National Desk. He has reported on major events for the network from wars and revolutions in the Middle East and North Africa to historic wildfires and terrorist attacks in the U.S.