Wrongful Death Suit in California Claims Guard Kept Knee on Man’s Neck

July 10, 2020

The parents of a California man who died while being detained on suspicion of trespassing at Sacramento’s basketball arena has filed a wrongful death lawsuit, alleging a security guard kept his knee on the man’s neck for more than four minutes and police officers tied his feet and waist as he was being held face down on the floor.

The federal lawsuit filed Tuesday claimed three security guards and three Sacramento police officers applied an “unreasonable amount of force” on Mario Matthews after he was found a year ago inside Golden 1 Center. It says Mathews weighed 125 pounds.

The lawsuit comes amid intense scrutiny of restraint policy after the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis sparked worldwide protests and led many police departments to ban the use of chokeholds and knees on suspects’ necks.

According to the lawsuit, the 39-year-old Matthews, a warehouse worker, entered the arena through a propped-open door around 3:30 a.m., hours after attending an outdoor concert held following two NBA exhibition games. Surveillance video captured a shirtless man running around the court as if he were dribbling and shooting a basketball.

Two security guards chased Matthews down a hallway, grabbed him by the wrists, slammed his face into a wall and tackled him face down to the floor, where he was handcuffed, the lawsuit said.

A third security guard and a police officer who responded to the scene got on top of Matthews while two other policemen tied his feet to a strap tied around his waist.

“Mario was restrained face-down for 20 minutes with as many as four people on top of him. For four of those minutes, a security guard had a knee on Mario’s neck. Mario displayed heavily labored breathing for most of this time before becoming non-responsive,” the lawsuit said.

Matthews didn’t regain consciousness and died two days later after being removed from life support.

Defendants named in the lawsuit include the city of Sacramento, the police officers, Universal Protection Service and the security guards the firm employed.

The security firm issued a statement contending that Matthews refused to comply with orders to leave the stadium and “appeared to threaten” the guards.

“They attempted to detain him pending the arrival of the police. He continued to actively resist efforts to restrain him until he was taken into custody by Sacramento police,” the statement said.

The firm declined to provide further comment, citing the ongoing lawsuit.

Tim Swanson, a spokesman for Sacramento’s city manager, said the city was in the process of evaluating the lawsuit as well as appropriate next steps.

Police released video and audio clips last July which showed an officer directing Matthews to “chill out” and “knock it off” before requesting backup officers to bring “max restraints.”

The lawsuit said the Sacramento County coroner “acknowledged that the restraint was a cause of Mario’s death.”

“Additionally, the coroner’s pathologist noted deep bruising of Mario’s back as a result of the weight and pressure that had been placed upon him,” the lawsuit said.

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