San Diego

DA Releases Video of Earl McNeil's Detention by National City Police

Earl McNeil, 40, of San Diego, died on June 11, days after he was detained by National City police

The San Diego County District Attorney's Office released more than two hours of video Friday as part of its investigation and review of procedures involving the death of Earl McNeil after his arrest by National City police.

Law enforcement officers are not criminally liable in the incident according to the prosecutors' review. 

McNeil, 40, of San Diego died on June 11, days after he was detained by National City police.

The video from cameras worn by officers as well as surveillance cameras showed a man who was behaving erratically, yelling, cursing, spitting and biting at fabric placed to protect law enforcement officers from being exposed to bodily fluids.

At moments, McNeil had conversations with himself – posing questions to himself and then answering them as if he were a law enforcement officer.

DA Summer Stephan described the video as "heart-wrenching." 

She met with McNeil's family Friday before releasing the results of the investigation to the public. 

In what may be graphic video, Earl McNeil bangs his head against the plexiglass of a law enforcement patrol car. The video was released after multiple community protests demanded video evidence showing what happened after McNeil was taken into custody by the National City Police Department on May 26, 2018.

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

An attorney representing McNeil's family said they are still seeking video of the incident not released Friday and would pursue legal action if necessary.

[G] Earl McNeil Death Investigation

At 5:27 a.m. on May 26, 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. 

He suffered from schizophrenia and had a long history of contact with law enforcement that included a recent possession of a loaded firearm, the district attorney said. 

Throughout the video McNeil made statements threatening violence and suicide. At other moments, he screamed for help and said he believed he was going to be killed.

Here is the timeline of events according to the DA’s Office:

  • 5:28 a.m. Phone contact with police dispatch
  • 5:32 a.m. First contact with officers
  • 5:47 a.m. Placed in police SUV, monitored
  • 7:04 a.m. Transported to county jail
  • 7:13 a.m. Arrived at county jail intake
  • 7:18 a.m. Evaluated by nurse
  • 7:22 a.m. Nurse completes medical evaluation
  • 7:26 a.m. Psych and medical decision
  • 7:28 a.m. Paramedics receive call for service
  • 7:34 a.m. SD Fire paramedics arrive
  • 7:37 a.m. McNeil moved into ambulance
  • 7:42 a.m. McNeil moved out of ambulance for treatment
  • 7:53 a.m. Ambulance departs for hospital 

Every minute of custody was captured by either body-worn cameras or surveillance cameras, Stephan said.

Stephan said she believed, “sharing as much information with the public is important in order to build trust and provide information that makes it clear to the public that there is open and accountable government.”


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 found 1.8 grams of methamphetamine and a knife in McNeil's possession, the DA said. 

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.

McNeil stopped yelling and was calm before beginning to spit on the officers, the DA said. At one point, National City police placed a spit sock on McNeil's face.

"Mr. McNeil injured his mouth by grinding it on the cement," the district attorney said. "The officers tried to hold his head so he wouldn't injure himself further." 

During an 8-minute ride to the jail, McNeil struck his head several times against the plexiglass partition in the patrol car, officials said. Officials say the injuries sustained in the patrol car were superificial. 

It was when the patrol vehicle arrived to the central jail that a nurse evaluated McNeil. 

“For approximately two hours and 20 minutes, while he was asking for help, he really wasn’t evaluated until the paramedics got there,” the McNeil family’s attorney Doug Applegate said. “He never got any medical attention until just before his heart stopped at 7:44 a.m. in the central jail.”

He said the family would continue their investigation.

“There’s a lot of questions that still need to be explored and the only place I know that we’re going to be able to conduct that investigation is in the building across the way in U.S. Federal District Court,” he said.

 The coroner’s report stated the methamphetamine alone was sufficient to kill Earl McNeil, District Attorney Summer Stephan explained.

Brain damage due to lack of oxygen was the cause of death, according to the San Diego County Medical Examiner’s Office. The manner of death has been determined to be a homicide. 

“The homicide label is used for anything that involves human hands in a situation like this,” Stephan said. 

Toxicology results taken at 8 a.m. on May 26 by hospital workers showed McNeil had .61 mg of methamphetamine and .04 mg of amphetamine in his system, Stephan said.

The coroner’s report stated the methamphetamine alone was sufficient to kill him.

“The medical examiner was unable to determine if the cardiac arrest caused the respiratory arrest or vice versa,” the DA said. 

McNeil's heart stopped while he was in the care of medical professional, she added. 

Here is a timeline released by the DA's Office in advance of the media briefing.

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

San Diego District Attorney Summer Stephan addresses if Earl McNeil was having a seizure or was unable to breathe when she reveals the results of the investigation into his death.

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.

Stephan confirmed McNeil worked with law enforcement and the DA's office on a major murder case that took place on New Year's Eve 2002.

Two women were killed and a boy was shot six times shielding a toddler, the DA said. 

He was not an informant in that he was offered a deal but served as a witness, she said. 

“McNeil was very courageous. He drew a line even as a gang member,” Stephan said. “He decided to have the courage to step up to that risking his own life.”

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