John Neville Told His Jailers ‘I Can’t Breathe.’ Now They’re Facing Charges In His Death.

I can't breath jail death

Image via Facebook.

John Neville of Greensboro. Image via Facebook.

By Sarah Ovaska

July 8, 2020

Forsyth County’s district attorney said five detention officers and a jail nurse will face involuntary manslaughter charges in connection with John Neville’s death in December.

A Greensboro man told Forsyth County jailers “I can’t breathe” while being restrained, and later died at a hospital from brain injuries and oxygen deprivation.  

Now, five Forsyth County detention officers and a jail nurse will face involuntary manslaughter charges in connection to the December death of John Neville, 57.

The charges were announced in a press conference Wednesday by Forsyth County District Attorney Jim O’Neill, the first public comments he’s made regarding Neville’s death in December. The detention officers are no longer employed by the sheriff’s office and were identified by Winston-Salems television station WXII News 12 as Sarah Poole, Edward Roussel, Christopher Stamper, Lovette Williams and Antonio Woodley. The nurse’s name has not been released.

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Neville is one of several Black men across the country who have died while being restrained by police or jailers. A video recording of George Floyd’s May killing by a Minneapolis police officer who kneeled on Floyd’s neck sparked national outrage over police brutality and the treatment of Black Americans in the criminal justice system and beyond.  

Neville, 57, died Dec. 4 in a hospital, four days after he was arrested on a misdemeanor charge of assaulting a female, according to The News & Observer. A recently-completed autopsy found he died of brain injuries caused by oxygen deprivation and a heart attack from being held in a prone restraint, WXII 12 news reported. WXII 12 News, a Winston-Salem news station.

While in jail sleeping, Neville fell out of a top bunk because of an unspecified medical condition, O’Neill said, according to news accounts of Wednesday’s press conference. Detention officers and a nurse sent to his cell found him disoriented and confused before moving him to an observation room where he was apparently restrained.

“The autopsy also revealed Neville had acute altered mental status and asthma, and detailed that Neville repeatedly said, ‘I can’t breathe,’ as detention officers tried, unsuccessfully, to remove his handcuffs during the ordeal,” WXII reported.  

While surveillance footage of the incident exists, it has not yet been released and can only be released by a court order. The News & Observer has filed a request asking a judge to release the footage and a hearing is scheduled for next week, according to the N&O.

Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed a bill this week that contained a provision seeking to make death investigation records secret when information is passed on to medical examiners by law enforcement. That would likely include those who died while in police custody. Currently, autopsies conducted by the N.C. Office of the Chief Medical Examiner are public records.  


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