Lawsuit over death of Earl McNeil alleges excessive force

40-year-old Earl Mcneil, who died after an encounter with National City police

SAN DIEGO – A lawsuit filed by relatives of Earl McNeil, who died in June following a struggle with National City police, accuses officers of excessive force and failing to provide “critically needed” medical care, it was reported Wednesday.

The suit says these violations, among others, were fueled in part by “unconstitutional policies and practices,” including those that govern force and emergency medical care, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported. It also accuses National City police leaders of failing to effectively discipline officers who violate the constitutional rights of others, creating a culture that excuses that behavior.

The lawsuit, filed March 20 on behalf of Taneka Ellis McNeil, Earl McNeil’s widow, and two other family members, names National City, former National City police chief Manuel Rodriguez and a number of National City police officers and deputies as defendants, according to the Union-Tribune.

McNeil died on June 11, 16 days after he showed up outside National City police headquarters around 5:30 a.m. saying he wanted to turn himself in on a warrant, the newspaper reported.

The first officers to approach McNeil placed him in handcuffs and detained him on suspicion of being under the influence of a controlled substance after he began to struggle, according to the Union-Tribune. A small bag of methamphetamine was later found in his front pocket.

Officers then wrestled him to the ground and placed him in a device called The WRAP, which uses a stiff blanket to immobilize a person’s legs and a strap between the chest and ankles to keep a person upright and breathing, the newspaper reported.

McNeil was in the device for nearly two hours and also had two socks placed over his head to keep him from spitting on officers, according to the Union-Tribune.

He was eventually taken to county jail, but a nurse declined to book him and an ambulance was called to take him for a medical and psychological evaluation.

A short time after the ambulance arrived, McNeil stopped breathing. Paramedics were able to resuscitate him and get him to a hospital, but he never regained consciousness, according to the Union-Tribune. His family terminated life-support two weeks later.

An autopsy showed that McNeil died of brain damage caused by respiratory arrest.

The San Diego County Medical Examiner’s Office stated that several conditions could have contributed to his death, which was declared a homicide, including the methamphetamine in his system and the use of The WRAP as well as the two spit socks, the Union-Tribune reported.

The lawsuit claims McNeil should not have been restrained in the first place and says that after he was restrained there were many signs that he required “immediate medical aid,” according to the newspaper.

The lawsuit also contends that McNeil had exhibited several conditions that require immediate medical treatment after The WRAP was applied, including respiratory distress, suspected drug behavior and sweating profusely, the Union-Tribune reported.

In September, District Attorney Summer Stephan announced that no National City police officers or sheriff’s deputies would face criminal charges in connection with McNeil’s death.

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