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No Charges for Officers in Emotionally Disturbed Man's Death: AG's Office

By Eddie Small | April 3, 2017 12:24pm
 Police officers are not at fault in the death of Richard Gonzalez, according to a report from the New York Attorney General's Office.
Police officers are not at fault in the death of Richard Gonzalez, according to a report from the New York Attorney General's Office.
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Anton K. Nilsson/DNAinfo

SOUTH BRONX — Police were not responsible for the death of an emotionally disturbed man who died in their custody last March, according to a report from the New York State Attorney General's Office.

The report stems from an incident on March 16, 2016, when Hafiza Ali-Gonzalez, the wife of 55-year-old Richard Gonzalez, called 911 to say that her husband was on crack cocaine and acting violent in their Mott Haven apartment, according to the report and the NYPD.

Ali-Gonzalez called 911 twice, first to say that her husband had smoked crack and was in the hallway of their apartment building with his genitals exposed and then to say that she planned to hit her husband with a golf club if police did not respond quickly, according to the report.

Officers arrived around 7:30 p.m. and handcuffed Gonzalez after a brief struggle, but he went limp and collapsed roughly one minute later, and he was pronounced dead at Lincoln Hospital.

Ali-Gonzalez said nothing about excessive force on a subsequent 911 call, and during interviews with officials from the NYPD and The Bronx District Attorney's Office hours after her husband's death, she said she did not see officers abuse him. But she said she knew they had done so because she had seen them abuse him in the past, the report says.

In a meeting with the Attorney General's Office five days after her husband's death, however, she said she saw police choking Gonzalez and that "police officers 'killed him right in front of me.'"

The Medical Examiner's office found no evidence of trauma to Gonzalez's neck during his autopsy, ruling that the cause of his death was cocaine use and the manner was accidental, according to the report.

The Attorney General's Office concluded that "the NYPD officers involved in this incident did not cause Mr. Gonzalez’s death and that, therefore, no criminal prosecutions are warranted."

The report did note that there was no video available of the incident, which would have greatly helped the Attorney General's investigation, and used this "as an opportunity to again recommend that police agencies and policy makers work toward outfitting as many officers and vehicles as possible with body-worn and dashboard cameras."

►READ MORE: NYPD Body Cameras Will Debut in Uptown Police Precinct, Officials Say

The NYPD is currently in the midst of implementing a body camera program, which the report acknowledges.

Robert Gangi, director of the Police Reform Organizing Project and a mayoral contender, criticized the process of having the attorney general investigate cases where unarmed civilians die in police custody, saying that such investigations would be better handled by an independent prosecutor.

“There will always be a cloud over the findings when they exonerate the police officers because of the perception, a perception grounded in reality, that the system favors the police officers,” he said.

“This might have been completely fair, this report,” he continued, “but people like me, and certainly family members and people in the community for reasons that again are totally understandable, will always be cynical and skeptical.”