DPD Dismisses Officer after Discovery of Involvement in Mario Matthews 2019 Golden 1 Center Death

Photo of the Davis police department at sunrise
Photo of the Davis police department at sunrise
Photo Courtesy Don Sherman

By David M. Greenwald
Executive Editor

Davis, CA – The death of Mario Matthews in 2019 at the Golden 1 Center—in the manner similar to George Floyd, though predating it—triggered changes to state law requiring better training for security guards in the use of force and changes on restraints in Sacramento city policy.

It also triggered a settlement of $1.15 million from Sacramento and an undisclosed amount from Universal Protection Service—the company that employed security guard Drake Quitugua.

But somehow, in their background checks, the Davis Police Department missed this incident.  When the Vanguard, investigating a tip, reached out to Police Chief Darren Pytel, he conducted his own investigation and quickly dismissed Quitugua.

Thirty-nine-year-old Mario Matthews, a 125-pound warehouse worker, was found inside the Golden 1 Center at 3:30 a.m. on July 2, 2019.

“The 125-pound Mario was being detained for potentially trespassing after entering the city-owned Golden 1 Center through a propped-open door less than five minutes prior,” the lawsuit said. “Mario was slammed face-down to the concrete floor, handcuffed with his hands behind his back and then with maximum restraints applied to him.

“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. All medical efforts proved futile.”

According to the complaint, once Matthews was face down, “his hands were handcuffed behind his back and defendants Quitugua and Hayes got on top of his back.”

Quitagua then “used his right knee to apply pressure to the side of Mario’s neck for approximately four and half minutes.”

Matthews was “restrained face-down and handcuffed for approximately ten minutes before defendant McCann—a Sacramento Police Department Officer—arrived and also got on top of Mario.”

The complaint added, “The first audio recording of the incident came from McCann’s body-worn camera. By that time, it was apparent that Mario was in severe distress, including respiratory distress.”

In addition to the lawsuit, perhaps as illuminating were depositions taken with Golden 1 security staff, including Denzel Pruitt and Timothy Lea.

Pruitt in his deposition explained that the security procedure is if someone is trespassing, the arena security would ask the person to leave, and would call the police if there needed to be further action.

It was against arena policy to restrain people who were trespassing.

“It’s not the policy,” Pruitt explained.  “We’re hands off.”

Moreover, it was the Golden 1 Security who had jurisdiction in the arena, not Universal Protection Service.

“(T)hey know that they’re not supposed to be in the arena,” he said.  “They’re supposed to patrol the outside.”

He continued, “If we have any problems with any homeless or transients, we call them, and they do their thing. But they’ve never been asked to be let in, besides this incident, and they know that the arena inside is ours and the outside is theirs.”

Most pointedly, Pruitt said that “this could have been avoided. And if we all stuck to the policy that they’re there for, I believe he lives. No, we’re not tied up right now, and we could be living. But unfortunately, it’s not the way it played out.”

The Sacramento DA’s Office reviewed the case, mainly examining the role of the police, and concluded “there is no legal basis for any further action by our office regarding the actions of the peace officers involved in this matter.”

The case was high profile, there were a number of articles in the Sacramento news, and the state legislature changed the state law as the result of this case—how is it that the Davis Police Department ended up hiring Quitagua last year as a police officer?

Chief Darren Pytel was candid.

“It was a total oversight,” he said.  “I can’t make any excuses for it.”

Pytel explained that Quitagua goes by two first names.  However, only one of them, Drake, showed up in the court filing, the news stories, and police records.

“I have the original Google searches from the background using his real names and it doesn’t pop up, but when you do half the name, it clearly pops up,” Pytel explained.

The problem was not just on the Davis Police Department, however.

“It wasn’t disclosed,” Pytel said.  “And none of the references from the business told us anything about this. Even though they asked specific questions, it just didn’t pop up in the background.”

Nor was there anything from Sacramento Police.

“We sent them a records request for any contacts that they had with them. And I have the record, they replied back, there was no contacts with them, so there was just nothing on our radar,” Pytel continued.

He acknowledged they should have Googled both of the first names with the last name—and then it would have popped up.

The Vanguard, in the course of its investigation, shared with Pytel both the original complaint as well as the depositions.

“Now after reading the depositions from the witnesses, I have a better view of what happened,” Pytel said.  “I have to make a decision based on all that information, on what do we do now.”

Pytel noted, “He was clearly untrained.  He had been a security guard only for a very short period of time.  He only had the one day of training, which came out in the lawsuit.  And ultimately that sparked a change in state law to provide better training and to deal with these types of situations.”

Pytel added, “(I)t was a challenging circumstance, even for the police officers that arrived. This was a challenging circumstance. So I think that there’s issues there for sure. And in law enforcement world, you can’t really have these types of cases and expect continuing law enforcement career. And that’s the issue.”

Pytel feels like in Davis, “We just have a lot more oversight than some of the other agencies in some of the other counties.”  He added, “I have a history of when there’s a problem, I do take care of it.”

He concluded, “It should not have happened, and I have to speak in the interest of transparency.”

Dillan Horton, chair of the Davis Police Accountability Commission, told the Vanguard, “I’m glad to know that when the Davis Police Department found out that they’d hired an officer involved with the wrongful death of Mario Matthews, DPD promptly dismissed the officer.”

However, Horton expressed concern over the gaps in the system that arose in this case.

“Though I do appreciate the department’s response, this incident highlights gaps in the systems used to vet potential officers. Under my leadership as Chair of the Davis Police Accountability Commission, we’ll look into these gaps and recommend changes to ensure this doesn’t happen again,” they added.

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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