A year after the San Diego District Attorney’s Office cleared officers and deputies involved in the arrest of Earl McNeil, a citizen’s review board found that one deputy broke department policy.
On the morning of May 26, 2018, McNeil, 40, showed up at National City Police Department headquarters appearing intoxicated, behaving erratically, yelling, and cursing. He was also seen banging his head against the walls of the police cruiser as he was being transported in the back seat the downtown jail.
Footage from officers’ body-worn cameras, as well as surveillance cameras, showed officers and deputies having trouble controlling McNeil. He was also seen banging his head against the walls of the police cruiser as he was being transported in the back seat the downtown jail.
At moments, McNeil had conversations with himself – posing questions to himself and then answering them as if he were a law enforcement officer. Officers found 1.8 grams of methamphetamine and a knife in McNeil's possession, according to the District Attorney’s Office.
McNeil had been placed in a WRAP, a device used to keep erratic suspects upright and stop them from using their arms or legs. Two “spitsocks” were also placed over McNeil’s head between the time of his arrest and when he arrived at the jail. Spitsocks are mesh slips placed over a suspect’s head to stop them from spitting. The second one was put on McNeil because the first one became soaked and was ineffective.
The spitting continued as deputies tried to prepare McNeil for transport to a local hospital. At that point, a deputy placed a shirt over McNeil’s head to help stop projectile saliva.
The placing of the shirt over McNeil’s head violated SDSO policy which prohibits a deputy from blocking the mouth and face of a suspect, according to the Community Law Enforcement Review Board (CLERB).
The deputy in question was not identified in the (CLERB) report, but the SDSO confirmed the officer left the department in August.
In a statement, the Sheriff's Department said in part, "After reading through CLERB's investigative findings, we believe their policy recommendations have merit. We will examine our policies to see how we might implement the listed recommendations. In regards to the alleged policy violation, we do not see enough evidence to support CLERB's investigative finding that the t-shirt was used in a way that affected Mr. McNeil's breathing."
A spokesman for the department said the deputy was not disciplined for his actions, and that he acted reasonably “given the circumstances and actions of Mr. McNeil.”
During the conflict at the jail, McNeil stopped breathing and was taken to a hospital. He was revived, but was taken off life support 16 days later.
Video released by the district attorney's office last year shows the timeline of events that led up to McNeil's arrest and jail struggle.
The Medical Examiner determined McNeil was not getting enough blood or oxygen to his brain and that material over his mouth and face could have contributed to his death. The ME also determined that McNeil had enough Methamphetamine in his system to kill him.
The Citizen's Review Board will discuss the findings during a closed session at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday. Public comment will be allowed before the meeting at the San Diego County Administration Center.