San Diego

National City Man's Family Awaits Answers in Death Investigation

The aunt of a man who died in a hospital, days after seeking help from the National City police, appeared outside of city hall Tuesday with protesters asking for answers as to what led to the man's death.

Earl McNeil, 40, of San Diego, died 16 days after he was detained by National City police.

Both family members and the police agree that McNeil experienced medical distress while in the custody of the police. What is unknown is what led to the need for McNeil to be treated by paramedics. 

On June 11, McNeil was removed from life support at the UCSD Medical Center and died. 

His family and several members of the community have held multiple protests demanding to see bodycam video from the morning of May 26. 

At 5:27 a.m. that morning, McNeil used a phone outside the police department. 

He "told the dispatcher that he had a warrant, was high, and wanted to kill Jesus," police officials said. 

In an official statement released on June 13, National City police said that when officers came out, McNeil was "agitated, made irrational statements, and acted paranoid."

Officers said they found a controlled substance on McNeil and attempted to arrest him.

Officers restrained McNeil using a WRAP. As they were driving him to the county jail, officials said, McNeil showed distress. Paramedics were called and while he was being treated by paramedics, McNeil stopped breathing, police said.

The cause of death is under investigation by the San Diego County Medical Examiner.

Outside of the city hall building in National City, NBC 7 and other local media gathered to hear from the family of McNeil on Tuesday. 

Earl McNeil’s aunt, Tammy Davis, was the only family member to talk to the media. She quietly identified herself and said she was not ready to speak.

“I’m still reliving the incident,” she said. “So I’m going to let the people behind me speak for me."

McNeil's family has said he suffered from mental illness.

Police officials met with a member of the McNeil family on May 30. A second meeting was held on July 24. 

The family's attorney Doug Applegate released the following statement: 

“National City Police Department gave only a sequence of events from arrest, observation, transport to the county jail, rejection at the County Jail booking and ambulance transport to UCSD Hillcrest Hospital, all over an 8-hour period according to some in the media. National City police provided no timeline and showed no videos and played only one brief audio recording," the attorney said in a written release.

“The family of Earl McNeil wants more transparent disclosure of the facts surrounding his death while in custody and an explanation including Earl McNeil's history as an informant for law enforcement,” Applegate said.

A San Diego Union-Tribune article states McNeil was a paid informant for National City police. The paper said police denied McNeil was working for the department.

The incident has sparked several protests outside the police department and in front of the city council multiple times in June and July. 

The City Council is on a hiatus for the month of August which was planned earlier this year, before the protests began. 

Chief Manny Rodriguez spoke with NBC 7 on Monday and said shutting down the meetings disrupts the business of the city. 

"If you really want to have a dialogue about change, then you have that dialogue," Rodriguez said. "These people are coming in not to produce change but rather for chaos."

Weekly protests have taken over National City Council meetings after the death of Earl McNeil. NBC 7’s Joe Little explains what’s next after the council takes a month-long break.

National City Mayor Ron Morrison said protesters used their First Amendment right to speak at a city council meeting. 

"Then it became time for other people to use their First Amendment right and they said, 'No, we're the only ones that get a First Amendment right.' There's where the problem comes up," Morrison said.

Through community activists, including spokesperson Mark Lane, the family is asking for video from body-worn cameras and any other recording or transcripts of McNeil's interactions with police and deputies as well as the medical examiner's report on what caused his death.

Morrison said once all the reports are completed, including the medical examiner's report, they will be released. 

"It will all be out in the open, it will all be transparent," the mayor said. 

NBC 7 talks with Tasha Williamson, a community activist leading the effort to get police officer bodycam video released in the investigation into the death of Earl McNeil. 
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