Three California police officers charged in 2021 death of man in custody

(Reuters) -California prosecutors announced involuntary manslaughter charges against three police officers for the 2021 death of a man in their custody, reversing the outcome of a previous investigation that had cleared the officers.

The officers in Alameda, California, pinned Mario Gonzalez, 26, to the ground for about five minutes before he became unresponsive during an arrest on April 19, 2021, according to body camera footage the city released after his death.

An attorney who represented the three officers during the original investigation said in a statement that there was no new evidence in the case and the charges announced on Thursday were a "blatantly political prosecution."

Gonzalez's death in Alameda, a city of nearly 80,000 people adjacent to Oakland, occurred the day before a Minneapolis jury convicted former policeman Derek Chauvin of murdering George Floyd, amid nationwide protests against police violence and racial inequality.

An initial probe by the Alameda County District Attorney's Office into the case found in 2022 that the officers bore no liability for Gonzalez's death.

The Office's Public Accountability Unit, a new department opened by District Attorney Pamela Price in 2023 after she was elected, reopened and reexamined the case, leading to the charges.

The three officers charged were dispatched to a park to check on Gonzalez in 2021 after residents reported a man was loitering and talking to himself, according to recordings of 911 emergency calls released by the city.

The officers' body camera footage showed that they struggled for a little over five minutes to keep Gonzalez pinned and handcuff him while trying to take him into custody.

After Gonzalez became unresponsive, the officers used chest compressions until paramedics arrived. Gonzalez died in a hospital later that day.

An initial autopsy had attributed Gonzalez's death to toxic effects of methamphetamine as well as morbid obesity, alcoholism, and "physiological stress of altercation and restraint."

A second autopsy, cited by the District Attorney's Office in Thursday's announcement of the new charges against the officers, described his death as "a result of Restraint Asphyxiation."

(Reporting by Julia Harte; editing by Jonathan Oatis and Bill Berkrot)