San Diego

Drug Use Suspect Dies at Hospital After Being Arrested, Pepper Sprayed by San Diego Deputy

Oscar Leal, 37, was arrested by SDSO deputies on Feb. 28 and, while being taken to the Vista Detention Facility, began behaving oddly, the San Diego County Medical Examiner’s Office said

A north San Diego man allegedly under the influence of drugs died last week at a hospital after being pepper sprayed by deputies who said he was behaving erratically in the back of a patrol car.

According to a report released by the San Diego County Medical Examiner’s Office (ME), Oscar Leal, 37, was arrested on Feb. 28 by deputies with the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department (SDSO).

As deputies were taking Leal to the Vista Detention Facility, the report said he began exhibiting “altered behavior.”

At the jail, Leal became unresponsive. The ME report said deputies administered CPR and paramedics were called to the facility. Leal was then taken to the Tri-City Medical Center emergency department but he couldn’t be revived. He was declared dead at the hospital a short time later.

SDSO spokesperson Lt. Karen Stubkjaer confirmed the suspect was arrested for being under the influence of a controlled substance after he called 911 several times on Feb. 28 and repeatedly hung up without saying anything.

When deputies encountered Leal, Stubkjaer said he had trouble performing field sobriety tests. He was taken into custody and, en route to the Vista Detention Facility, “started thrashing and slamming his head on the interior of the vehicle and kicking the doors,” the SDSO said.

Stubkjaer said the deputy driving Leal to the North County jail pulled over and warned him to stop. The deputy then deployed pepper spray on the suspect.

The SDSO said this was done as a precaution, “to prevent the man from injuring himself.”

Leal allegedly began yelling things like “No!” “Let me go!” and “Don’t take me to jail!”

The SDSO said the suspect continued to injure himself in the back of the patrol car as they arrived at the jail. The deputy warned Leal again to stop and used pepper spray on him once again.

Once Leal was out of the car, deputies tried to control him but he allegedly kicked them.

“They attempted to restrain him with their hands to place him on a medical gurney and he stopped breathing,” according to the sheriff's department.

Despite attempts to resuscitate the suspect, he died at Tri-City Medical Center.

Stubkjaer said the SDSO believes Leal’s death was possibly caused by an overdose of illegal drugs.

The cause and manner of Leal’s death is pending review by the ME.

NBC 7 reached out to the ME’s office Tuesday and officials there confirmed, per protocol, they were performing toxicology tests on Leal. At this time, those results are pending.

Stubkjaer said Leal’s death is being investigated by the SDSO’s Homicide Division with the department’s new "Overdose Response Protocol," which is being used for all suspected drug overdose deaths.

“As with all incidents involving deputy use of force we are conducting an internal review to ensure our policies and procedures were followed,” Stubkjaer added.

SDPD Homicide Unit Lt. Rich Williams confirmed Leal was involved in a police pursuit while allegedly driving under the influence in July 2016.

In that case, Leal refused to yield for a minor traffic violation in while driving in Oceanside, prompting a pursuit that took him into Vista. Leal drove himself to the Vista Detention Facility, looped around the jail, got out of his car and entered the area of the facility where prisoners are processed. Leal was ultimately arrested on suspicion of DUI, felony evading and resisting arrest.

With Sheriff’s Deputies in slow pursuit, Oscar Leal drove to the Vista Jail. NBC 7’s Steven Luke reports.
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