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A security guard kneeled on Sacramento man’s neck for 4 minutes, leading to his death, lawsuit alleges

Mario Matthews died in July 2019 after officers and security guards restrained him for allegedly trespassing in Sacramento.
Mario Matthews died in July 2019 after being restrained by officers and security guards after he allegedly trespassed into the Golden 1 Center in Sacramento.
(Stewart Katz )

The family of a man who died after a security guard allegedly kneeled on his neck for four minutes in Sacramento’s Golden 1 Center indoor arena has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the security guards and police officers involved.

The lawsuit, filed in a Sacramento court Tuesday by the man’s parents, Elizabeth Avila and Mark Matthews, alleges that three security guards and three Sacramento Police Department officers used “maximum restraints” on the “non-threatening” 125-pound man for a total of at least 20 minutes.

Mario Matthews, 39, lost consciousness and did not wake up. He died days later in the hospital, according to the lawsuit.

The city of Sacramento, security guard company Universal Protection Service and Sacramento Downtown Arena LLC were also included as defendants. Attorneys Dale Galipo and Stewart Katz are seeking unspecified damages.

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The lawsuit comes as the killing of George Floyd, who died in Minneapolis after a police officer kneeled on his neck for nearly eight minutes, has sparked nationwide protests and scrutiny of law enforcement that have led to calls to defund police forces.

In this case, Matthews, a warehouse worker and sports fan, is believed to have attended a concert featuring T-Pain outside the arena following a basketball showcase with players from the Sacramento Kings, Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Lakers, according to the lawsuit.

About 3:30 p.m. the shirtless man walked into the center through a door that had been propped open by cleaning staff. Matthews lay down on top of the Sacramento Kings logo in the middle of the court “and then ran around the basketball court as if he were dribbling and shooting a basketball,” the lawsuit states.

Video footage of the incident released by the Sacramento Police Department shows security guards, listed in the lawsuit as defendants Drake Quitugua and Chaz Hayes, chasing Matthews into a hallway, pushing him against a wall and bringing him down to the floor.

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Quitugua put his knee on Matthews’ neck for four and a half minutes, the lawsuit alleges. About 10 minutes after Matthews was restrained by the two security guards, Sacramento police Officer Mason McCann arrived to help.

“By that time, it was apparent that Mario was in severe distress, including respiratory distress,” the lawsuit states.

Two additional officers arrived with “max restraints” to bind Matthews’ legs together, at the request of McCann, according to the lawsuit. The two officers took the place of the security guards on top of Matthews.

Within seconds of the restraints being placed on his body, Matthews became nonresponsive, according to the lawsuit.

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“Perhaps in denial of Mario’s now catatonic state, defendants McCann, [Lorenzo] Vidales and [Terrance] Gordon attempted to pull Mario to his feet, but he immediately flopped back to the ground. At this point, it was clear to everyone present that Mario was incapable of getting up and in need of urgent resuscitation efforts,” the lawsuit states.

Paramedics arrived and performed CPR on Matthews. He was taken to Sutter General Hospital, still unconscious.

Video footage from what appears to be one of the officers’ body cameras records him saying that Matthews was “probably high” and “for whatever reason, he was acting a fool.”

A security guard can be heard saying, “We took him down pretty hard.”

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“Based on what I am talking to the officers, no use of force on our part,” one officer is recorded saying through a body camera. “He was already detained by security here when we showed up. So it’s probably one of those excited delirium type deals.

“Plan is to pull the video to see what I got,” he continued. “I still need to watch the body cam videos to make sure we’re in the clear so that we didn’t use any force or anything like that.”

Matthews died July 4, 2019. Citing the Sacramento County coroner, the lawsuit states there was “deep bruising of Mario’s back as a result of the weight and pressure that had been placed upon him.”

Tim Swanson, a spokesman for Sacramento’s city manager, said the city is reviewing the lawsuit and considering its next steps.

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The security firm that employed Quitugua and Hayes said in a statement that Matthews had 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.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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