Who was Mario Gonzalez? Man who died in police custody had misplaced job throughout pandemic

Mario Gonzelez’s mother talks about her son’s death

KTVU sat down with Edith Arenales, the mother of Mario Gonzalez, who died in Alameda police custody.

Mario Gonzelez had been looking for his family since he was 12, and his father had split up, leaving his mother and three younger brothers behind.

After graduating from Coliseum College Preparatory in Oakland, Gonzalez had planned to attend Alameda College. But he delayed those dreams to help his mother with the bills and to take care of his younger brother, who has severe autism.

The 26-year-old worked in various professions. He sold auto parts at AutoZone. He worked in construction. He helped his mother in a café that she runs from a gas station. Sometimes he was also a cook.

“He was so sweet and gentle,” said his mother, Edith Arenales, on Tuesday in her first in-depth public interview since her eldest son’s death. “He was the man of the house.”

Edith Arenales from Oakland holds a picture of her son Mario Gonzalez, who was killed by police in Alameda on April 19, 2021. Photo: Lisa Fernandez

And now this man is gone. He died in police custody in Alameda on April 19 when officers responded to a public call about an apparently drunk man.

WARNING GRAPHIC VIDEO: Alameda officers kneel on a human before he dies

“You destroyed my family for no reason,” said Arenales as tears ran down her face at her Oakland home. “And that can happen to anyone.”

She hit the chest, looked up at the sky, and took a deep breath.

“Now I’m broken,” she said. “It’s too painful. It’s too much.”

Gonzalez suffered from his own pain during the pandemic.

SEE ALSO: Students outraged at 26-year-old’s death after fighting with Alameda police

He lost his job as a chef in an Italian restaurant that had ceased operations while it was closed. And like so many others, he hadn’t found a job since then. He kept looking but was never lucky.

He got depressed. He started to eat more and put on weight. He was concerned and was prescribed medication to help. He worried whether he or his mother would die, who would take care of his 23-year-old brother Efrain, who has severe autism and is non-verbal. He wanted to be able to care for his 4-year-old son, Mario Jr., whom he shared as parents with his ex-girlfriend in Fremont.

And his worries over the past 14 months have not been unique.

“His story is the story of millions of Americans,” said Julia Sherwin, a civil rights attorney hired by the Gonzalez family.

Mario Gonzalez Sr. holds his son Mario Jr.

And while none of his family members know exactly what Gonzalez was doing in Alameda that day, they said he went there often for rest.

His mother also sometimes noticed that her oldest child appeared to drink more at outdoor events. She said that a beer or two seemed very intoxicating to him. They banned alcohol or cigarettes in the house.

And the day Gonzalez died, it seems like he was drinking in a little pocket park on Oak Street.

A neighbor called the police to say that a drunk man who was not wearing a mask was in or near his yard.

The police arrived to sort out the situation.

Mario Gonzalez had open alcohol containers at Pocket Park in Alameda. April 19, 2021 via Body Cam

In the division’s first announcement of his death, police originally told Arenales and the public that their son had died of a “medical emergency” following an “argument” with police.

The video with a body camera released last week shows three officers trying to handcuff Gonzalez and one of them had kneeled on Gonzalez’s back for at least two minutes.

Gonzalez is seen gasping for breath and he was pronounced dead after being rushed to the hospital.

SEE ALSO: Alameda Identifies three officers involved in a deadly battle with Mario Gonzalez

Several experts have said that officers have long been trained not to handcuff people who are face down, as this can lead to “suffocation”.

Arenales said she felt the police lied to her from the start.

“My Mario wouldn’t have done that,” she said. “He never said a bad word about anyone, not even about the police.”

The interim police chief told KTVU that he found the video “troubling” but it was too early to make a decision about how Gonzalez died.

Police attorney Alison Berry Wilkinson said officers detained Gonzalez for his own safety so he would not trip over a tree stump.

Mario Gonzalez from Oakland stands in front of a van on the way to an Italian catering gig. Photo: Courtesy of the Gonzalez family.

Gonzalez’s story has also been compared to that of George Floyd due to the scant police narration and the methods used by the Alameda police to arrest him over a minor incident.

Floyd was also unemployed during the pandemic.

Gonzalez also died the same day the jury began deliberating the Floyd case and found Minneapolis police officer Derick Chauvin guilty of murdering Floyd last May.

The week that Gonzalez died should be an especially happy one for her family.

His 21-year-old brother, Gerardo “Jerry” Gonzalez, had flown in from a college in North Carolina studying sports management and peace and conflict resolution three days earlier to celebrate her mother’s birthday on April 20th. This week was also Efrain’s birthday.

But instead of a long-planned birthday party, the Gonzalez family was reluctantly pushed into the national spotlight and contradicted the police tale of Mario’s death.

Instead of opening presents and eating cake, Gonzalez’s brothers and mother spent a birthday week choosing a coffin.

Arenales now has sleepless nights and an immense challenge figuring out how to get back to work, pay the rent, and care for her special needs son and grandchildren.

“I want to cry, scream, and hit something,” said Arenales. “But I won’t do that. Mario wouldn’t have liked it.”

A GoFundMe has been set up for the Gonzalez family.

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


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