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Videos released Wednesday by a court order show Forsyth County jail staff responding to John Neville having a medical problem.
Neville died two days later. Several of those members of the jail staff now face charges that their actions contributed to his death.
The videos show an incident that occurred on Dec. 2 and show consecutive sequences as officers and a nurse interact with Neville.
In the first video, the body-worn camera of officer Antionio Woodley records 19 minutes and 55 seconds of officers and the jail nurse responding to Neville having a medical episode in his cell.
The nurse, Michelle Heughins, identifies an apparent medical problem for Neville, prior to the footage, as a possible stroke. She wakes Neville up by rubbing her knuckles against his chest. Neville apparently does not know where he is, does not answer when asked what his last name is and calls out to his mother and other people who are not there.
The first video ends with officers putting Neville in shackles and placing him in a transport chair with restraints.
The second video, taken by a hand-held camera, starts up just after the first video ends and lasts 25 minutes and 40 seconds.
This video shows jail staff transporting Neville to the jail’s multipurpose room, then to a jail cell, where officers remove Neville from a restraint chair and place him face down on a mat on the cell floor. Neville, who appears to remain confused, resists the officers, who hold him in a prone position.
Seven minutes later, Neville is unresponsive.
“John, you all right, buddy?” officer Edward Roussel say to Neville.
Neville does not respond, he has stopped moving and has stopped making sounds altogether.
“I’ll take that as a yes,” Roussel says.
It takes another 10 minutes for officers to identify that Neville is unresponsive and for the nurse to call for a defibrillator. She cannot tell if he is breathing and cannot find a pulse. The video ends with her giving Neville chest compressions.
Neville was transported to the hospital where he died two days later, on Dec. 4, 2019.
Public release of the footage
Neville’s death was not made public, in part due to his family’s request, until the News & Observer published an investigation on June 26.
As part of their investigation, the News & Observer requested video footage documenting Neville’s fatal injuries at the jail be released. On July 23, 10 other newsrooms, including Carolina Public Press, joined the petition for release. Additional petitioners have joined the case since then.
Superior Court Judge Greg Horne heard the case on July 29. Two days later, Horne issued an order to release the video with partial redactions for Neville’s privacy. The release was in the public interest, which was “only furthered by the fact that the death was not publicly reported for at least six months after it occurred,” Horne wrote in his order.
In a press conference on Tuesday anticipating the videos’ release, Forsyth County Sheriff Bobby F. Kimbrough Jr. said that he cried when he watched the videos.
“Your father has changed the way health care will be dispensed at the Forsyth County Detention Center, as well as how it will be dispensed throughout this region, based on the conversations I’ve had,” Kimbrough said to Neville’s family.
The footage was delivered to the petitioning newsrooms on Wednesday.
The videos show several Forsyth County jail staff. Officers Sarah Poole, Lavette Williams, Roussel and Woodley were fired on July 7. Officer Christopher Stamper was fired on July 8, the same day Forsyth County District Attorney Jim O’Neill announced charges of involuntary manslaughter against each of them.
O’Neill also charged the jail nurse, Heughins, who appears in the videos and who worked for Wellpath, a private company that provides medical care to jails and prisons.
At the press conference Tuesday, Kimbrough offered to rename a section of the prison after Neville, as a way to remember that at the jail, “life is paramount in how we do business.” The family did not immediately respond to that offer.
Neville suffers a medical incident
At no point in the videos does Neville show that he understands where he is or why he is being restrained.
Two minutes and 18 second into the first video, while Neville is still lying on the floor of his cell, the nurse tells Neville that it “looks like you had a seizure.”
Several officers from the Special Response Team are restraining him.
This is the first problem, according to the Neville family attorney, Mike Grace, who talked with Carolina Public Press about the videos Thursday morning.
“It’s the team that goes in and cools out any problems in the jail, disciplinary problems,” Grace said.
“This wasn’t a disciplinary problem, this was a medical problem from the beginning.”
Neville begins to struggle. His strength seems to come in 30-second bursts, where he resists the officers holding him down. Neville calls out for help, curses at himself and begs to be let up.
The staff continues to try to speak with Neville, to assure him that he is not in trouble and to tell him that he is in Forsyth County jail. Only once in the 45 minutes of video does Neville seem to respond to his name. He does not appear to know his own last name.
Eight minutes and 45 seconds into the video, an officer calls out for shackles. Neville calls out for his mother, who had already passed away.
Neville struggles against the officers and tries to bite them. The officers place a see-through, white, mesh bag over Neville’s head, which remains there until he becomes unresponsive in the second video.
Nevilles calls out, “I can’t breathe,” for the first time 14 minutes 46 seconds into the first video. “Pull me up,” he says.
“Mr. Neville was totally and wholly unable to help himself,” Grace said later.
“One by virtue of his medical crisis and two by virtue of where he is, he’s in the jail. And so, for them it was just another inmate, another black inmate and it just, it wasn’t a priority. Getting him help and being helpful to him wasn’t a priority.”
As the video continues, the officers lift Neville and place him in a “transport chair,” which has restraints. Neville does not resist on the way to the chair. He is, in fact, doubled over, hardly able to walk.
“Hey, John, are you doing OK, buddy?” an officer says. It is difficult to tell who is speaking.
“No,” Neville said. “Help me. Help me.”
“All right, listen,” the officer says. “We’re here to help you. We got medical here. Listen to me, you’ve got a medical issue going on.”
The first video ends. The officers are rolling Neville in the restraint chair down a hallway.
Neville begs for his life, remains restrained
The second video begins while they are still in transport.
The officers first take Neville to the jail’s multipurpose room. The nurse attempts to take Neville’s blood pressure. Neville strains against the straps of the chair, and she backs away.
Three minutes later, the officers move Neville to the cell block. While the officers are preparing the cell, Neville can be heard snorting or grunting, potentially indicating that he is struggling to breathe.
Neville had asthma and an inhaler, which was noted on his jail intake form, according to Grace.
When they unstrap Neville from the chair, he appears confused. He calls for help, though he does not resist when he is walked to the mat. The officers put Neville facedown on the mat and restrain him. Five officers in the cell hold Neville down.
The officers struggle to remove the wrist cuffs. They break a key in one of the locks.
The officers raise Neville’s feet as a form of restraint, which puts additional pressure on his chest. He is held in that position for four minutes, during which Neville yells that he can’t breathe 23 times.
“You’re breathing because you’re talking, you’re yelling, and you’re moving,” Roussel says. “You need to stop. You need to relax.”
Shortly after, a person off camera tells the officers to release Neville’s legs to relieve pressure on his chest and to allow him to breathe easier.
“I don’t advise that but I’ll do it if you tell me to,” officer Roussel says.
They release his legs, and at least three officers keep him pinned with their bodyweight. The first pair of bolt cutters fail to cut the handcuffs off of Neville’s wrists. Four minutes pass.
Neville stops speaking, though he continues to make noises. A minute later, an officer suggests that they use a key to remove the cuff from Neville’s other wrist while they wait for the bolt cutters.
“Since he’s asleep, should we go ahead and take the other one off and get the cutters,” the officer said.
“Yeah, that’s actually a good idea, thank you,” Roussel said.
It takes another two minutes for the officers to remove the cuffs, and five minutes for the officers to realize that Neville is unresponsive.
“Their inefficiency rose to the level of… disrespect for human life,” Grace said later. “They let him him die.”
As the video continues, they call for medical.
The nurse walks in the cell. Neville does not respond to verbal cues. The nurse looks at officer Roussel and shakes her head, then again tries to rouse Neville. The nurse and the officers leave the cell and lock an unconscious and unresponsive Neville inside. The nurse looks in the window, then asks if Neville was breathing.
“I don’t know, I couldn’t tell,” a person says off camera.
The nurse watches through the window for another dozen seconds.
“I can’t tell if he is breathing,” Heughins said.
The officers reenter the cell and restrain the unconscious Neville. In the cell, the nurse again says she cannot tell whether Neville is breathing and tells the officers to flip Neville onto his back. They are able to elicit sounds from Neville, though he does not regain consciousness.
Four minutes after officers called the nurse into the cell, she says she cannot find a pulse and calls for an automated external defibrillator, called an AED, which is used to shock someone’s heart into beating again.
It takes three minutes from when they reenter the cell to begin chest compressions. This is 13 minutes since Neville stopped being responsive.
Other detainees in the jail are yelling out, “You killed him.”
The video ends.
Later, after the footage ends, when Neville was removed from the cell, the other inmates sang Amazing Grace, according to Neville’s family’s attorney.
Warning: These two videos have been slightly altered by court order to obscure some image of John Neville, out of concern for his family’s privacy. However, the scenes may be disturbing. Strong language can be heard. Discretion is advised.
Editor’s note: This article was updated at 10:45 on Aug. 6, 2020, after being published earlier that morning, to include additional information from Neville’s family’s attorney. It was updated again at 2 p.m. on Aug. 6, 2020, to add links to the video footage.
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