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Protesters Shut Down National City Council Meeting Over Earl McNeil Death, Arrests Made

Police in riot gear line the street in National City outside a city council meeting July 24, 2018.
Matthew Bowler
Police in riot gear line the street in National City outside a city council meeting July 24, 2018.
Protesters Shut Down National City Council Meeting Over Earl McNeil Death, Arrests Made
Protesters Shut Down National City Council Meeting Over Earl McNeil Death, Arrests Made GUEST: Jade Hindmon, reporter, KPBS News

Our top story on Midday edition. Of more protests more arrests and this time police in riot gear. At a Tuesday night city council meeting in National City. The meeting was called to a halt when several people staged a die in lying on the floor in front of council members. Those protesters were taken into custody. This is the fourth consecutive city council meeting ended after protests over the death of Earl McNeil a man who stopped breathing while in police custody. He died last month. Police say this week they've given the McNeil family more information about URL's death but the family says questions remain. Joining me is Kate PBS reporter Jade Heidemann who was at last night's city council meeting in National City. And Jane welcome Marine. I have to start once again with the question What was it like to be at the council meeting last night. What happened. What was the atmosphere like. Well the atmosphere to start was more controlled last night. I will say you know they were only letting a certain amount of people in. They let folks and five at a time. And it was filled to capacity which was about 97. They relocated media to the back corner of the chambers and sort of kept an eye on everything. Again the meeting opened with public comment everyone but one person went up to speak about the Earl McNeil case. During that comment section about six or so people went up front for a die in protest where they laid down on the ground with their palms in the air which had been painted red and said blood is on your hands. At that point officers moved in and detained those people and the meeting was halted at that point. After that a lot of people went outside to sort of find out where they were bringing people out. But those protesters those those activists were met with officers in riot gear first from the San Diego County sheriff's office and two hours went by. And then a number of officers showed up from several different agencies heavily armed and more riot gear to move in. There was also a helicopter circling the area to sort of surveillance what was happening. I did hear canine canine unit and some of the officers vehicles. So there was a heavy police presence to confront what seemed to be maybe about 50 or so protesters. You talked to one of the people there about this heightened police presence. Tell us about that. Yeah I talked to one activist whose name is Mohamed El Kiba and he was there and felt that that things were just a bit excessive. It's a waste of tax money. I think that there should not be 80 to 100 cops here as literally there are 30 to 40 protesters that are demanding justice and order here with tactical gear. This is this literally reminds me of what's happening in Palestine. This is what happened in the Middle East. This is what happened in Ferguson. Now as you say eight arrests were made do we know how many. We haven't gotten official word from National City Police yet. We saw six people be detained. What about National City police chief Manuel Rodriguez. He's been sort of a lightning rod for many protesters. Was he at last night's meeting. He was he was at last night's meeting again and he was the subject of a few angry comments as he glanced down at his cell phone during public comment and even smirked. Now do we know anything more from police about what caused Earl McNeil's death. We don't know a whole lot more about that because the investigation at this point is still sealed. We do know that the the National City Police Department did meet with the McNeil family on Monday the McNeil family says that they were able to hear bits and pieces of that emergency phone call that McNeill made the morning of May 26. They say though that it was bits and pieces they were not satisfied with what they've heard. They still want to see video. They'd like to hear the the exchange in its entirety rather than in bits and pieces. So at this point there's still not a whole lot of information. They were also privy to a preliminary report from the medical examiner. But again still not able to release any details about what is in that. The medical examiner says they will actually be finished with that report this time by mid August. What are city officials and the National City mayor saying about all of this. You know they're they're silent on this. They have not said a whole lot about this. So this whole investigation is now on the radar of law enforcement agencies outside of National City isn't it. It is. So the Department of Justice it's on their radar it's on the radar of the FBI. They the FBI has not opened a formal investigation on it but they are looking into it. Also the district attorney's office will look into this once the National City police finish their investigation. And I should also mention that this case is also on the radar of a number of community organizations to have you've got the ACLU teamed up with a number of legal groups MidCity Kande the Center on policy initiatives. All coming together and asking questions about this case in particular about the Purt team response. Was there a team available and if not why. And also asking questions about the device that was used among many other things. I've been speaking with CBS reporter Jane Heidemann. Jade thank you. Thank you.

The National City Police Department said six people were arrested and charged with the misdemeanor crime of disruption of public assembly or meeting, after a “die-in” protest during Tuesday night's city council meeting.

National City Police called five agencies to assist the department with crowd control of about 30-50 unarmed people. Those agencies were the Chula Vista, El Cajon, Coronado and San Diego Police departments, as well as the San Diego County Sheriff's department. The officers were all heavily armed and wearing riot gear while a helicopter hovered above.

The National City Police Department continues to investigate the death of Earl McNeil as an in-custody death. The Medical Examiner's report is expected to be completed by mid-August.

Protesters Shut Down National City Council Meeting Over Earl McNeil Death, Arrests Made

UPDATE: 12:41 p.m., July 25, 2018:

Law enforcement responded in riot gear at a city council meeting Tuesday night in National City.

Activists stopped the public comment portion of the meeting with a “die-in protest,” demanding answers in the death of Earl McNeil, a man who died after being arrested in May.

One by one, six people lied down on the floor with red palms in the air, shouting “blood is on your hands!”

Protesters interrupt a city council meeting in National City with a die-in protest, July 25, 2018.
Matthew Bowler
Protesters interrupt a city council meeting in National City with a die-in protest, July 25, 2018.

The die-in demonstration as protesters called it, brought the packed city council meeting to a halt as National City police moved in to arrest all six people.

After the chamber was cleared, other activists moved outside where they were met by heavily armed officers in riot gear from at least three different agencies including the National City Police Department, the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department and the Chula Vista Police Department. Mohamed Elnakib said he felt the show of force was excessive.

“This is a problem that they are here in military tactical gear for literally people who are out here without weapons. We are peacefully protesting and all we want are answers,” Elnakib said.

Details on the charges against those arrested haven’t yet been released.

UPDATE: 9:00 p.m., July 24, 2018:

Several protesters were arrested inside the meeting. Police zip-tied their hands and some were carried out. Police and protesters are still outside City Hall. Some streets near the building are currently blocked off. KPBS has reached out to the National City Police Department and is awaiting word on the number of arrests.

National City Police make an arrest during a city council meeting July 24, 2018.
Matthew Bowler
National City Police make an arrest during a city council meeting July 24, 2018.

UPDATE: 8:15 p.m., July 24, 2018:

Protesters shut down the city council meeting in National City Tuesday night. Several arrests have been made. KPBS is outside City Hall and will have updates as they become available.

Original story:

The family of Earl McNeil got some details Monday about how the 40-year-old died after being arrested in May. But they are still seeking more answers, and community members plan to speak out at Tuesday night's city council meeting in National City, starting at 6 p.m.

National City Police officials, legal counsel and the San Diego County Medical Examiner's Office met with the McNeil family and their attorney Monday, to give an update on the ongoing investigation.

During that meeting, family members got a look at preliminary findings from the autopsy, which has been unsealed but is not yet available to the public. That information will not be disclosed until the report has been completed in mid-August.

The family's attorney, Doug Applegate, said they also heard parts of the emergency phone call McNeil made to dispatch the morning of May 26, while standing in front of the National City Police Station.

National City Police Department media release regarding death of Earl McNeil
National City Police Department media release regarding the department’s meeting with the family of Earl McNeil.

RELATED: Protesters Call For Resignation Of National City Police Chief In Connection To Death Of Earl McNeil

Applegate said McNeil called for help four times in a span of five minutes before officers met him. Police said McNeil told the dispatcher he had a warrant, was high and wanted to kill Jesus and then hung up the phone.

Police said they met with McNeil outside the station and arrested him for suspicion of being under the influence of a controlled substance. They said McNeil became combative and they restrained him in a WRAP device before transporting him to the county jail. Police said during the transport, McNeil intentionally hurt himself and showed signs of medical distress at the jail. Paramedics were called and he stopped breathing while they attended to him. McNeil was then taken to UC San Diego Medical Center where he was on life support until June 11.

RELATED: Federal Investigators Looking Into Death Of South Bay Man

On Tuesday, the National City Police Department put out a news release that said Monday's meeting with the family included an outline of the chain of events on May 26, "from the first police contact with Mr. McNeil, to transport to County Jail to his removal from the patrol car to being placed in an ambulance at the County Jail's intake area."

The release said, "Mr. McNeil was responsive (talking, yelling, and alert) during the entire time he was in the custody of the National City Police Department." It went on to say McNeil stopped breathing while in the back of the ambulance as it was parked in the county jail area.

RELATED: Who Was Earl McNeil?

Family members question bruises and other injuries they said they saw on McNeil's head and face. Applegate said the family is still asking for all body camera, surveillance and dashcam video related to McNeil's death. He said the family was told National City Police are following the protocol of San Diego County regarding an in-custody death.

The Medical Examiner's report is expected to be finished mid-August. At that point, National City Police can complete their investigation as they need the findings from the Medical Examiner's Office.

National City Police said per protocol, the District Attorney, FBI and the U.S. Department of Justice are also investigating McNeil's death.

Protesters Shut Down National City Council Meeting Over Earl McNeil Death, Arrests Made
Protesters interrupted the packed city council meeting Tuesday night, demanding answers in the case of Earl McNeil, a man who died after being arrested in late May.

Corrected:
Editor's Note: A previous version of this story misspelled Mohamed Elnakib's name. The story has been updated to correct that.