Video shows moments before death of John Neville who said 'I can't breathe' while restrained by detention officers

WARNING: This video may be disturbing to some. This video contains profanity.

A North Carolina judge on Wednesday released video showing the moments leading up to the death of a Black man who told detention officers that he couldn't breathe and repeatedly asked for help while restrained in police custody last December.


The day before the video was released, the Forsyth County sheriff apologized to the family of 57-year-old John Neville.

Forsyth County Sheriff Bobby Kimbrough on Tuesday said he was saddened by the video showing jail officers restraining Neville before he died at a hospital.

Five former detention officers and a nurse were charged last month with involuntary manslaughter in connection with Neville's death. Kimbrough said his department has instituted changes in training as a result.

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Neville died Dec. 4, 2019, four days after Kernersville police arrested him on a misdemeanor charge of assault on a female.

Forsyth County District Attorney Jim O'Neill said Neville was placed in a prone restraint, meaning he was face down and restrained in some fashion. As a result, Neville was unable to breathe, which caused a brain injury that would eventually kill him, O'Neill said.

It happened after his cellmate saw him having what appeared to be a seizure in the middle of the night and called for the emergency response team.

The medical examiner's report says that Neville uttered "Let me go," "Help me up," and "Mama," while he was being restrained by the team.

In the video that was released on Wednesday, Neville is repeatedly heard yelling "mama" and "let me go" while officers hold him down on the ground. The officers respond to his shouts by telling him they are trying to help.

After metal restraints secured his ankles, Neville said "help me" several times. The team members then rolled him onto his stomach to handcuff his wrists. He uttered "I can't breathe" once while on his stomach.

In total, he is on the ground for about 16 minutes.
In the video, Neville was conscious but breathing heavily while he was being wheeled out of the detention center to be taken to the hospital.

The Forsyth County Sheriff's Office took seven months to issues a statement about his death, prompted by questions from the Winston-Salem Journal.


According to the newspaper, the sheriff's office did not notify the public at the time of Neville's death, and Sheriff Bobby Kimbrough said he did not do so because Neville's family, and the family's legal counsel, asked him not to release any information publicly.

As protesters took to the streets of Winston-Salem, Wednesday night, to call for justice, the president of the Raleigh-Apex NAACP, Gerald Givens, told ABC11, "It's just heartbreaking. And it's absolutely horrible" after viewing the video for the first time.

"A tear came out of my eye as I heard him say, 'I can't breathe, I can't breathe, help me'," Givens said. "People really need to understand that this is the time for us to have a discussion, not just about what happens at the police station but about how law enforcement officers interact with people of color from the beginning to the end."



In a statement, the sheriff's office said Neville "experienced a medical emergency," and was taken to Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, where he later died. The hospital conducted an autopsy the day after he died. Tracy Spry, a medicolegal autopsy coordinator for Wake Forest's autopsy pathology department, said a direct cause of death was not identified at autopsy, thus his death certificate was listed as 'pending' upon completion.

Wellpath, the employer for the nurse involved in the incident who has since been charged, issued the following statement on Wednesday:
We at Wellpath are saddened by the tragic death of John Neville. This was a chaotic situation where a number of corrections officers were responding to an incident involving Mr. Neville. During this situation our nurse performed her duties in line with the Forsyth County Sheriff Office's Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) in place at the time. As shown in the video released today, when permitted to act, she worked diligently and compassionately to save Mr. Neville's life. We believe the charges against her are unfair and not in keeping with the facts of the situation. She did not engage in misconduct and provided the level and type of care appropriate in the circumstances. She is a member of the Wellpath family, and she has our complete support.
Copyright © 2020 ABC11-WTVD-TV/DT. All Rights Reserved - The Associated Press contributed to this report.