Videos show North Carolina man restrained by jail officers before his death: "I can’t breathe"
Body camera videos from a North Carolina jail show a man who died days after his arrest struggling with guards to get up from where he lay on the floor. The footage shows John Neville calling out for his mother and yelling “I can’t breathe!” more than 20 times as they restrained him.
The videos released Wednesday show the moments last December when Neville, 56, was told by a nurse in the Forsyth County jail in Winston-Salem that he had a seizure. Neville died at a local hospital of a brain injury on Dec. 4, three days after his arrest on a warrant accusing him of assaulting a female.
Five former jail officers and a nurse were charged in July with involuntary manslaughter in Neville’s death.
Body camera video from one of the guards shows the nurse wearing blue surgical gloves kneeling next to Neville, who initially appears to be unresponsive. The nurse repeatedly tells him, “You’re OK,” and asks if he can talk to her.
“Are you ready to come out of it now?” she asks. “It looks like you had a seizure.”
A guard explains that he is having a medical problem and tells him to calm down. He fights to get up and yells expletives, crying “Let me up, let me up. … Help me. Help me.” At one point, he yells, “Mama, mama!”
A group of four of five guards flips him over to his stomach and cuffs his hands behind his back as he continues to struggle. They put a white mesh hood over his head, stand him up, walk him through a door and strap him into a restraining chair as he moans and breathes heavily.
A guard then pushes him in the chair down several corridors before the roughly 19-minute body camera video ends.
In the second video, which is nearly 26 minutes long, Neville is moved into a small cell. As he is being transferred, Neville yells, “Help me, somebody!” A guard tells him he’s had a medical episode and he needs to calm down.
Once in the cell, the five officers remove Neville from the chair and lay him on a mattress. He yells, “I can’t breathe!” and “Please let me go!” He shouted that he couldn’t breathe at least 25 more times before one guard uses bolt cutters to remove the handcuffs that a key had broken off in.
At one point, a guard acknowledges that the handcuffs belong to him. “That’s coming out of your paycheck,” another guard responds.
Soon, Neville stops yelling, and while officers ask him if he’s OK, no response can be heard on the video. After that, his legs are folded onto his back and he is locked in the room. The officers back out.
The last scene shows the nurse standing at the window and looking at Neville. In a faint voice, the nurse appears to suggest that Neville wasn’t breathing. The guards reenter the cell and the nurse checks on Neville, who lets out an groan. The nurse applies her stethoscope, then tells the guards “I can’t hear a heart rate” and says Neville has to be rolled on his back to be treated. She requests an defibrillator and performs CPR on him.
Neville suffered a brain injury because his heart stopped beating, which deprived his brain of oxygen, according to an autopsy report, which also said he asphyxiated while being restrained.
Mike Grace, an attorney for the Neville family, said the video evoked tears.
“I didn’t know Mr. Neville before his death, and I wept,” Grace said. “My partner didn’t know him, and my partner is a 45-year-old white man and he wept. I wept like a baby.”
Grace said there have been others who didn’t see a problem with the way Neville was treated, but he said it’s that kind of insensitivity that led to his death.
“It was a very definite lack of respect for human dignity, for human life, especially a Black human life in jail,” he said.
Grace described Neville’s death as one of commission, not of omission.
“The video won’t show anyone kicking Mr. Neville or hitting Mr. Neville or actively attacking him,” he said. “They just didn’t give a damn about him, and I don’t know which is worse. It was a life, according to the coroner, that he shouldn’t have died. Didn’t have to die.”
On Tuesday, Forsyth County Sheriff Bobby Kimbrough apologized to Neville’s family during a news conference for the man’s death, saying he too cried after seeing the video. He said Neville’s death has led to changes in training involving medical care providers, and that he would name a portion of the jail for Neville.
On Wednesday night, more than 70 participants used their phones as flashlights and sang songs during the vigil for Neville in Winston-Salem, the Winston-Salem Journal reported.
Neville’s son, Tremaine Stubbs, spoke to the crowd about parts of the footage released on Wednesday that showed Neville, calling for this mother. “There is no reason that a grown man should be calling for his mama when she is no longer with us,” Stubbs said. “I can’t breathe man,” he added. “My daddy is gone for no reason.”
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