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3 Northern California law enforcement officers charged in death of man held facedown on the ground

FILE — In this April 19, 2021, file image taken from Alameda Police Department body camera video, Alameda Police Department officers attempt to take Mario Gonzalez, 26, into custody, in Alameda, Calif. Three Northern California law enforcement officers have been charged with involuntary manslaughter in the death of a man who was pinned face down during a 2021 incident that drew comparisons to the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. (Alameda Police Department via AP, File)

FILE — In this April 19, 2021, file image taken from Alameda Police Department body camera video, Alameda Police Department officers attempt to take Mario Gonzalez, 26, into custody, in Alameda, Calif. Three Northern California law enforcement officers have been charged with involuntary manslaughter in the death of a man who was pinned face down during a 2021 incident that drew comparisons to the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. (Alameda Police Department via AP, File)

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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Three Northern California law enforcement officers have been charged with involuntary manslaughter in the death of a man who was pinned facedown during a 2021 incident that drew comparisons to the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

The charges against James Fisher, Cameron Leahy and Eric McKinley were announced Thursday by Alameda County District Attorney Pamela Price.

The charges were filed just before the statute of limitations were to expire and marked a reversal of a decision by a previous district attorney who cleared the officers of wrongdoing.

Mario Gonzalez, 26, died in the city of Alameda on April 19, 2021. McKinley, Fisher and Leahy were all Alameda police officers at the time. McKinley and Leahy are still with that department but Fisher is now a Contra Costa County sheriff’s deputy.

The officers confronted Gonzalez after receiving 911 calls that said he appeared disoriented or drunk. According to police video, he resisted being handcuffed and they pinned him to the ground for several minutes before he became unconscious.

The county coroner’s autopsy report listed the cause of death as “toxic effects of methamphetamine” with the contributing factors of “physiologic stress of altercation and restraint,” morbid obesity and alcoholism. Then-District Attorney Nancy O’Malley subsequently found that the officers’ actions were reasonable.

A second, independent autopsy done at the request of Gonzalez family lawyers found that he died of “restraint asphyxiation.” The district attorney’s office noted the second autopsy in announcing the involuntary manslaughter charges.

Defense attorneys denounced the charges as politically motivated, noting that an effort to oust Price has gathered enough signatures to force a recall election this year.

Fisher’s attorney, Michael Rains, said the charges are a “desperate effort to shore up her chances of remaining in office,” reported.

The district attorney waited “until the 11th hour” before the statute of limitations was set to expire and just days after it was confirmed she would face a recall, attorney Alison Berry Wilkinson, who represented the three officers in previous investigations and now represents Leahy, said in an email to ϰϲ.

“There is no new evidence,” Berry Wilkinson wrote. “This is a blatantly political prosecution.”

Berry Wilkinson said the officers’ actions were reasonable, necessary and lawful, and the death was due to drug toxicity.

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

An attorney for McKinley was not immediately available for comment Friday.

Price said she was “walled off” from the case review, which was conducted by her office’s Public Accountability Unit.

Last year, Alameda settled two lawsuits over Gonzalez’s death. The city agreed to pay $11 million to his young son and $350,000 to his mother.

“A wrong has been righted,” Adante Pointer, the attorney for Gonzalez’s mother, told the news group.