Family of Man Who Died in Struggle With Police During Mental Health Call Sues City

Oral Nunis and his wife Roxie. (Photo courtesy Douglas Hicks Law)

SAN DIEGO (CN) — The family of a Black man who suffocated under the weight of five Chula Vista Police officers responding to a mental health call by the man’s daughter this past March, filed a wrongful death suit in state court Tuesday.

Oral Nunis Sr., a 56-year-old Jamaican trucker, was “acting out of character” and had tried to injure himself while visiting family members this past March. This prompted his daughter to call 911 seeking mental health assistance for her father, according to a 19-page lawsuit filed in San Diego County Superior Court on Tuesday.

The 5-foot-4-inch man was detained by officers who had stormed the apartment even though Nunis was not suspected of any crimes, according to the complaint.

Nunis’ family members asked officers not to handcuff him, as he suffered from claustrophobia. But officers used handcuffs on Nunis before later utilizing a steel wrapping device and a spit hood to restrict the man’s movements.

Officers used their body weight to detain Nunis, who was already restrained by the wrap and spit hood, which caused him to struggle to breathe, according to the complaint.

“The defendants mistakenly interpreted Mr. Nunis’ struggles to regain his breath as acts of resistance, shouting ‘Stop resisting, stop resisting,’” the family says in the complaint. “The defendants’ collective weight pressing on Mr. Nunis’ body was a substantial factor causing his death.”

The Nunis family attorney, Carl Douglas — who served as a defense attorney for O.J. Simpson and is founder of Douglas/Hicks Law in Los Angeles — said during a virtual press conference Tuesday he believes the case “will generate national attention once the horrific body camera footage from Mr. Nunis is released.”

He added: “This is another lawsuit on behalf of the family of another unarmed black man who has died in police custody. We’re calling for a true change in the way law enforcement agencies respond to calls for help.”

Douglas said the city of Chula Vista, as well as the city attorney assigned to the case, have refused to release body camera footage or autopsy results to the Nunis family. He also said he’s never seen the type of wrap device used to restrain Nunis in another case.

Results from a private autopsy paid for by the family cannot be confirmed or publicly released until a toxicology report is released by the county and can be accounted for in the second autopsy, Douglas said.

“I suspect he died because of the restriction on his body in the effort to detain him,” Douglas said.

Naomi Nunis, one of Oral Nunis’ seven children, broke down during the press conference when recalling her father “was a humble, hardworking man who loved his family, who loved his job.”

“He would always say ‘I’ll soon be back’ but this time he didn’t come back,” Naomi Nuis said.

Roxie Nunis, Oral Nunis’ wife, said the death of her husband has destroyed the family.

“We’re still struggling with dealing with the loss of my husband. During this season it’s very difficult for us,” Roxie Nunis said.

Abigail and Jabez Nunis, Oral Nunis’ minor children, are also named plaintiffs in the complaint. The family seeks damages on claims of civil rights violations, assault and battery, false imprisonment and negligence.

The city of Chula Vista released a statement Tuesday saying “it is premature and inappropriate to come to any conclusions at this time.”

“The investigation is ongoing, and the true cause of death has not been determined by the medical examiner. Because of this, and now the threat of litigation, the city and the police department must refrain from commenting further beyond the statements already made,” the city said in its statement. “The city and the police department continue to express our deepest condolences to the family and all of those touched by Mr. Nunis’ tragic passing.”

The district attorney’s office said it will review the case once the investigation is complete and the medical examiner’s report comes back.

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