Federal Investigators Looking Into Death Of South Bay Man
Federal investigators are now looking into the case of a mentally ill man who died after he stopped breathing while in the custody of National City Police on May 26.
Paramedics were able to resuscitate Earl McNeil and he was taken to the hospital. He remained in a coma until he was taken off life support and died on June 11.
McNeil's family said he'd gone to the police department for help. They want to know how he wound up with what they described as severe head injuries.
Family members and community activists went to the National City Police Department on Wednesday to demand answers. Family spokesperson Tasha Williamson said, "We’re trying to figure out how come he has bruising on his head. How he has scrapes on the side of his head. How he has bruising all around his head. How he has missing pieces of hair gone from his head. How did those injuries happen?"
On Wednesday morning, the National City Police Department released a prepared statement about the case. In it, police said officers met McNeil outside the police department after he called dispatchers.
"Mr. McNeil told the dispatcher that he had a warrant, was high, and wanted to kill Jesus. Mr. McNeil then hung up the phone," the statement read. It also said when officers contacted McNeil, "he was agitated, made irrational statements, and acted paranoid."
Police said they arrested McNeil on suspicion of being under the influence of a controlled substance. During the arrest, police said he became "combative," and officers put him in a device called a "Wrap," which restrains the legs, hands and feet.
Williamson questioned whether McNeil was simply restrained. "How come his wrists are cut, which appears to have been something that was too tight?" she asked. "His hands are completely swollen, his arms are swollen. That happens when there is an excessive force. That doesn't happen when there is a restraint."
The police statement also said a controlled substance was found on McNeil, and he was taken to the county jail. "During the transport, Mr. McNeil was intentionally hurting himself," the statement said.
Police said paramedics were called to the jail when McNeil showed signs of medical distress during intake. McNeil stopped breathing, and paramedics were able to resuscitate him. Family members said he fell into a coma and later died at UC San Diego Medical Center.
National City police said they are conducting an investigation and review of this incident along with the District Attorney’s office, FBI and U.S. Department of Justice. An autopsy is underway.
The police department statement quotes National City Police Chief Manuel Rodriguez. He said, “People want to know what happened to Mr. McNeil, and so do we ... I am hopeful the San Diego County Medical Examiner’s report will provide the answers to what happened to Mr. McNeil’s medical condition."