Police officers and sheriff’s deputies, some in riot gear, lined a road outside the National City council chambers Tuesday night after protesters and activists interrupted a fourth consecutive council meeting to demand answers in the death of Earl McNeil, who died after his arrest in May.
Tuesday’s meeting began as others had over the last two months, with activists taking over the public comment portion of the council meeting. All but one of the two dozen or so speakers Tuesday night talked about McNeil’s case.
Soon after the public comment portion of the meeting concluded and the City Council moved onto another matter, a group of protesters stood up with their hands in the air and walked up to the dais.
“You have blood on your hands,” the protesters chanted.
The protesters, who had red paint on the palms of their hands, laid down in front of the dais as law enforcement officers formed a line to keep other people back.
Officers then dragged the protesters out of the council chambers, with some demonstrators wailing and crying out as they were pulled from the room.
It wasn’t immediately clear how many people were arrested, though activists outside City Hall said it was six. Photos and first names of those arrested were already circulating on social media about an hour after they were detained.
Tasha Williamson was believed to be among those arrested. Williamson is a community organizer with the group Building Justice and was arrested last month for protesting McNeil’s death at a City Council meeting.
After the protesters were detained, they were kept inside City Hall for more than two hours as tempers flared outside, where other demonstrators shouted toward a line of at least a dozen sheriff’s deputies on East 12th Street. The deputies were wearing riot helmets with face masks.
Behind the initial line stood two deputies in full SWAT gear. Dozens of other police officers from National City and Chula Vista formed a loose ring on the streets surrounding City Hall.
Shortly after 9 p.m., about five or six dozen additional officers and deputies marched down East 12th Street, outnumbering the people waiting outside the building to see the detainees brought out.
Tuesday’s protests came a day after National City police and county officials met with McNeil’s family members and their attorney to update them on the investigation into his death, which included listening to a call McNeil made to police from the after-hours phone at department headquarters, police said.
Acting police Capt. Alex Hernandez said investigators outlined a timeline of events the morning McNeil was arrested, and officials with the county medical examiner’s office shared with the family the preliminary findings from McNeil’s autopsy.
Police have said McNeil went to the National City police station shortly before 5:30 a.m. on May 26 and used a telephone outside the station to speak with dispatchers. He told them, among other things, that he had a warrant out for his arrest, was high and wanted to “kill Jesus.”
Police said they suspected McNeil was under the influence of drugs. His family has said he suffered from bipolar disorder.
When officers met McNeil outside the police station, they said, he was agitated and paranoid and made irrational statements. They said McNeil became combative as officers tried to detain him.
McNeil was placed in a restraint called the Wrap, and was taken to County Jail, where he went into medical distress. Police said he was being checked out by paramedics when he stopped breathing.
He remained hospitalized on life-support until June 11.
Police said officers found a controlled substance on McNeil during the arrest.
Separate investigations have not been launched, but the county district attorney’s office, the FBI and the U.S. Department of Justice are monitoring the case.
Riggins writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.