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Who Was Earl McNeil?

A sign with a photo of Earl McNeil is shown during a National City council meeting, July 17, 2018.
Kris Arciaga
A sign with a photo of Earl McNeil is shown during a National City council meeting, July 17, 2018.
Who Was Earl McNeil?
Who Was Earl McNeil? GUEST: Max Rivlin-Nadler, reporter, The Appeal

Our top story on Midday edition a city council meeting in National City Wednesday afternoon was once again dominated by public comment on the death of Earl McNeil. The National City man died last month after he stopped breathing while in police custody. A series of city council meetings have become a forum for protesters demanding the release of police body cam tape from the incident and calling for the resignation of National City police chief Manuel Rodriguez. A new media outlet focused on criminal justice issues called the appeal has been focusing on the Earl McNeil case and joining me is Max Rivlin Nadler reporter for the appeal. And Max welcome to the program. Thanks for having me. Mr. McNeil suffered from mental health issues can you describe what's known about his condition. On May 26 when he contacted the National City Police. According to police he called them from the courtesy phone outside of the National City Police Department which is right on the side of bright red phone and according to police he told them that he was high and he wanted to kill Jesus and was having a mental health episode. This is something that's backed up by his family and conversations with them where they said he often dealt with mental health episodes related to a bipolar diagnosis where often he would rely on local law enforcement calling 911 getting in touch with MT's to help him through episodes. So this wasn't out of the ordinary for Earl to reach out to law enforcement when he was feeling unwell. It was just what happened next which obviously took a different course than other interactions he'd had with law enforcement. Now if when he had these mental health crises he called 911 the National City Police would necessarily have been involved in that. Is that right. Yeah. He wasn't living in National City and according to his family he had not had prior interactions with that police department. This is something that they're very confused about how he ended up there. Obviously he had lived kind of a life where he had been in and out of the criminal justice system had some housing insecurity had bounced around with family members things like that. But they at this moment have no idea how he ended up there because it was far from where his family lived. Now your reporting is brought to light information that was not widely known about Earl McNeil specifically that he was an informant for law enforcement. Can you tell me about that. He was an informant in a 2003 murder case which eventually went to trial in 2009. Well it led to an indictment in 2009 and then a trial in 2011. This was related to a shooting outside of the Dr. J liquor store had gone unsolved for many years and was eventually resulted in the arrest and conviction of an event of an individual named James Carter and Mr. Carter maintained his innocence throughout the trial obviously. And Earle was called as both a witness in the grand jury phase as well as in the trial phase. What connection this has to what happened to Earl obviously is not known at this time. And one thing that my reporting just wanted to do is kind of flesh out why Earle's life was like and his prior interactions with law enforcement. Is there any reason to think then that his name would be known in law enforcement circles perhaps even a National City. There's no reason at this point beyond that we know he testified in this case to have any idea whether he was known to National City police at all. There is a detail in your reporting that Mr. McNeil did recant his testimony in the Carter case at least to a private investigator. What's the significance of that. That's something we don't really know yet. Obviously it would be important for the Carter appeals or future procedures relating to that case. But in terms of relationship to what happened to Mr. King you know we have no idea at the significance of that. It's just part of a larger picture of who Mr. McNeil was. From your reporting Max. What do you see as some of the key unanswered questions about Earl McNeil's death. What a lot of people are focusing on is the body camera footage and the names of the officers involved as well as an accounting of what happened during the time that he was in the National City Police Department. So this was several hours where he according to police spat on police became combative. This is what they have put out there. The family when they went to go see Earl in the hospital he had bruising and lacerations all over his body. And this led to them questioning how did he end up with these injuries what happened in those missing hours. The police too. In a statement following his death said that these were caused by Earl when he was in the back of a police car banging his head against the side of the police car the divider and and causing these injuries to himself. This is something that the family would like some explanation of some documentation of some way to believe that that's actually what happened to Mr. McNeill. And this is what activists have been really trying to bring up. There was a chant on Tuesday night at another city council meeting that was interrupted where activists were chanting release the tapes release the tapes because they want some proof that goes beyond just a statement from the police over. This is what happened. So our National City officials expected to release more information about his death is there any plan to release those tapes. Right now they say the investigation is ongoing and this is something that has led to frustration among the family members as well as activists in the community because they haven't given a timeline yet. They say this is an ongoing investigation. We'll get back to you about when we're going to release more information. Another thing that's happened is they have yet to release the autopsy. So these are things that people are going to continue to look for answers about but have not yet been given any timeline about when they will get those answers. And this is really what's been happening at the city council meetings and the City Council itself tried to make the investigation into Mr McNeil's death an agenda item and that failed in a vote on yesterday two to two. So right now there's very little oversight happening from the politicians in National City outside of well this investigation is ongoing and we're going to just have to wait for the police to bring it forward. I've been speaking with Max Rivlin Nadler reporter for the appeal. And Max thank you. Thank you.

A new investigative report paints a more detailed portrait of the 40-year-old African-American man who died last month after he stopped breathing while in the custody of National City Police. Police say he was resuscitated.

McNeil long struggled with mental illness and often called on local police and emergency responders to help when he was feeling distressed, according to The Appeal, a national news organization that covers criminal justice issues.

For years, reporter Max Rivlin-Nadler wrote, McNeil also served as a jailhouse informant for the San Diego County District Attorney's office.

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

The case has led to a series of heated city council meetings this week. Community members are calling for the release of police camera footage and the resignation of National City Police Chief Manuel Rodriguez.

Rivlin-Nadler discusses McNeil's ties to law enforcement Thursday on Midday Edition.

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