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Man To Have Life Support Pulled After He Stopped Breathing While In National City Police Custody

A press release issued about the death of Earl McNeil is shown in this photo copy, June 6, 2018.
Courtesy Tasha Williamson
A press release issued about the death of Earl McNeil is shown in this photo copy, June 6, 2018.

A mentally-ill man walked into a South Bay police station seeking help nearly two weeks ago, but instead wound up in a coma, having suffered permanent brain damage while in custody, relatives said Thursday, hours before the man was scheduled to be taken off life support.

Earl McNeil, who is in his 40s and has bipolar disorder and possibly other mental health issues, has been hospitalized in a trauma unit at UC San Diego Medical Center in Hillcrest since shortly after he sought help from the National City Police Department two weeks ago, according to Tasha Williamson, a leader of an advocacy group demanding answers about what happened to him.

According to McNeil's relatives, he went to police headquarters on National City Boulevard on May 26 to ask for assistance of some kind and was later taken to San Diego Central Jail.


At some point during his encounter with law enforcement that day, McNeil suffered "irreparable brain (and) nerve damage," said Williamson, an activist with Building Justice, an organization contacted by the family to help seek answers about the case.

National City Police Sgt. Chris Sullivan, a department spokesman, said Thursday morning he knew nothing about McNeil's case but would look into it.

In a prepared statement, the sheriff's department, which operates local jails, asserted that it did not take custody of McNeil on the date in question.

"Mr. McNeil was presented at our (downtown) facility for booking on May 26 by the National City Police Department ... For a variety of reasons, his booking was rejected, and he remained in the custody of NCPD," according to the sheriff's department. "The sheriff's department cannot comment on what may or may not have transpired while he was in the custody of NCPD."

Whatever the reasons for McNeil's condition, his loved ones ultimately accepted that he was beyond recovery.


"His family, at the request of doctors, made the decision to stop all lifesaving measures (Thursday) evening," Williamson said.

Scott LaFee, a spokesman for UCSD Health, said he had no information about McNeil's condition.

McNeil's family has received few answers about what happened or the sequence of events that led him from the police station to the hospital, according to Williamson.

"He's got bruising all over his face and head, and severe brain and nerve trauma," she told City News Service. "It's shocking. What happened?"

McNeil's family, including an aunt who raised him after his mother died when he was 12, and a cousin who "is like a sibling," is devastated, Williamson said. She added that a civil rights violation complaint has been lodged with the FBI and said the agency's San Diego field office has begun an investigation.

An FBI spokeswoman said she was looking into the case and would "respond as soon as possible."

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