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Family Of Man Who Died Following Chula Vista Police Encounter Sues City

Oral Nunis Sr. seen with his wife, Roxie, in an undated photo.

Credit: Courtesy of the Nunis family

Above: Oral Nunis Sr. seen with his wife, Roxie, in an undated photo.

The family of a 56-year-old Black man who died following an encounter with Chula Vista police announced Tuesday the filing of a lawsuit against the city.

The family of Oral Nunis Sr., a Northern California resident who was visiting his daughter in Chula Vista, alleges police officers used unreasonable force in detaining him, resulting in his death, and that race played a role in how he was treated.

Shortly after midnight on March 13, Nunis' daughter called 911 requesting help after he began experiencing an adverse reaction to medication he'd taken, which led her to believe he required mental health attention, according to Carl Douglas, an attorney representing Nunis' family. A police department statement at the time said Nunis was attempting to jump from a second-story window.

The lawsuit alleges five officers responded and forcibly detained Nunis, though he was unarmed and posed no physical threat to the officers due to his small frame, standing 5-foot-4 and weighing less than 150 pounds.

Douglas said the officers threw Nunis onto the street, put their collective body weight atop him, placed him in a WRAP restraint device and put a "spit hood" over his head.

He was later transferred to the custody of paramedics and became unresponsive while in an ambulance, police said. Nunis was taken to a hospital, where he was later pronounced dead.

"I daresay his daughter will probably never dial 911 again," Douglas said during a news conference announcing the lawsuit.

In a statement released shortly after Nunis' death, the police department said he was restrained to prevent him from hurting himself or others. The department also alleged Nunis was "uncooperative with officers and struggled as they attempted to detain him," resulting in injuries to two of the officers.

Douglas said the city should have sent a psychological evaluation team trained to deal with people suffering from mental health issues, rather than police officers who he described as "trained killers" with "a warrior mentality."

The attorney said, "When you train people to be a hammer, everything they come in contact with, they treat like it's a nail."

Douglas alleges the city of Chula Vista and San Diego County has withheld autopsy report results, leaving Nunis' family in the dark as to how exactly he died. Douglas said that without that information, the family sought an independent autopsy, but that doctor's report cannot be finalized until he can review any toxicological analysis the county performed.

The city says Nunis' cause of death has not yet been determined by the Medical Examiner.

"The City of Chula Vista understands and shares the public's and the family's desire to have all of their questions answered about this incident. However, it is premature and inappropriate to come to any conclusions at this time," according to a statement released Tuesday by the city, which stated that Chula Vista and its police department "continue to express our deepest condolences to the family and all of those touched by Mr. Nunis' tragic passing."

Douglas said he believes Nunis' death did not involve any natural causes, and that it was likely caused by "positional asphyxiation" stemming from the officers putting their weight upon Nunis.

Nunis' wife, Roxie, said, "We're just asking for some type of answers in any shape or form to help us to understand what happened."

The officers' body camera footage has also not been released, but Douglas says he believes its release will attract "national attention" once people view it.

Douglas said the death of Nunis was reminiscent of other in-custody deaths involving Black detainees. One of the lawsuit's causes of action alleges civil rights violations due to Nunis' race.

"Were he not a Black man, these officers would have treated him with more humanity," Douglas said. "Regrettably, we say, if Oral Nunis Sr. had not been a Black man, he would still be alive today."

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