Officers, nurse charged in Neville case

More than a dozen demonstrators gathered outside the Forsyth County Jail earlier this week demanding justice for John Neville. Neville died from asphyxia after being restrained by officers with the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office.

Officers, nurse charged in Neville case
July 15
13:59 2020

Five officers and a nurse are being charged with involuntary manslaughter in connection to the death of John Neville, a Black man who died from asphyxia after being restrained by officers in the Forsyth County Jail and after telling officers several times “I can’t breathe.”

Around 3:24 a.m. on Dec. 2, Neville suffered an “unknown medical condition” while he was asleep and fell from the top bunk in his cell on the concrete floor. After seeing him lying on the floor shaking as if he was having a seizure, Neville’s cellmate pushed a panic button and shortly after that, detention officers and the on-call nurse arrived. They found Neville “disoriented and confused” and decided to move Neville into an observation cell so the on-duty nurse could determine what was wrong. 

While he was in the observation cell, officers used a prone restraint to try to get Neville to calm down. According to Forsyth County District Attorney Jim O’Neil, what transpired over the next 45 minutes led to Neville’s death two days later in the hospital. Neville told officers at least 10 times “I can’t breathe,” but they told him otherwise and unsuccessfully tried to remove his handcuffs.

“The decision was made to move Mr. Neville to an observation cell to try and determine what was causing his distress. It was over the next approximately 45 minutes that Mr. Neville would sustain injuries that would eventually cause him to lose his life,” O’Neil said.

On Dec. 5, 2019, at the request of Forsyth County Sheriff Bobby Kimbrough, the State Bureau of Investigation (SBI) was brought in to investigate the circumstances of Neville’s death. O’Neil said the findings in that investigation, including a video, were turned over to his office in April. The autopsy conducted by Dr. Patrick Lantz of Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center shows Neville died from “complications of Hypoxic-Ischemic brain injury due to cardiopulmonary arrest due to positional and compressional asphyxia sustained during the prone restraint.”  

During a press conference last week, O’Neil announced that the five officers involved in the incident, Sarah Poole, Cpl. Edward Roussel, Lovette Williams, Christopher Stamper and Antonio Woodley, have been arrested and charged. They have since been released on $15,000 unsecured bonds. At the time of publication, the on-call nurse, Michelle Heughins, had not been arrested but there is a warrant for her arrest.  

After giving a brief overview of the SBI findings, O’Neil said Neville’s death could have been avoided. “We have all been witnesses to the unrest that has gripped our world over the last several weeks. As it relates specifically to Mr. Neville, his death was avoidable and that is a tragic, singular fact. Consequently, charges have been brought forth,” he said.

Sheriff Kimbrough said good men and women made bad decisions that day and the result is a good man lost his life. He said while at the Magistrate’s office, the officers told him to tell the Neville family that they didn’t mean him any harm. “We’re sorry that the mistakes were made that day. I take responsibility for that as the sheriff,” he said. 

“What I will tell you is that we will still give you the best of us. We still serve the people regardless of what comes our way and we will always stand on the truth and what is right and what is transparent.”

Attorney Mike Grace, who has been hired to handle Neville’s estate, said although the family is still grieving, early in the process he asked Kimbrough not to release the video showing what happened to Neville to allow the legal process to play out and he has kept his word. However, Neville’s family has seen the video. 

“He accepted and he kept his word and did not make that available. It has not leaked out and no one has seen it except the people who ought to see it,” Grace continued. “The family has seen it and they’re quite devastated by it as are all who have seen it, but we are grateful the DA’s office and to the sheriff for keeping their word.

“I am happy that we followed the DA’s advice and let the process work itself out. There could’ve been leaks in this thing and half information given to the public and misinformation given to the public which would’ve been a disservice to the Neville family and to the process. I can tell you that although the family is grieving, they are satisfied that the process is working. We would ask that the public and the press allow them some additional space to grieve. We would ask that no acts be committed in John Neville’s name that would not honor his life and the manner of his passing.” 

Since the press conference last week, demonstrators locally and across the state have been demanding justice for Neville and that the manslaughter charge be upgraded. On Monday, July 13, more than a dozen supporters of Black Lives Matter Winston-Salem held a rally outside the Forsyth County Jail. Although the demonstration did stay peaceful, during past demonstrations some people have been arrested for allegedly blocking a public street.

The five detention officers are scheduled to appear in Forsyth County District Court on Thursday, July 23. 

About Author

Tevin Stinson

Tevin Stinson

Related Articles


Featured Sponsor

Receive Chronicle Updates

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.



More Sponsors