Former Detention Officers, Nurse Charged In Suspect's Death

Jul 8, 2020

Credit Alejandro Mejía Greene/JubiloHaku / Flickr Creative Commons

Five former detention officers and a nurse at a North Carolina jail have been charged with involuntary manslaughter after a man died last December, a district attorney said Wednesday.

Forsyth County District Attorney Jim O’Neill announced the charges at a news conference, news outlets reported.

John Neville, 57, died Dec. 4, 2019, four days after Kernersville police arrested him on a misdemeanor charge of assault on a female. Neville, who was Black, was restrained and choked while in custody, causing a brain injury which led to his death, O’Neill said.

But it took seven months before the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office issued a statement about his death, prompted by questions from the Winston-Salem Journal. Before Wednesday, the sheriff’s office had released only limited information.

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. 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.

On Tuesday, North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed a broad health measure late Monday because it contains a provision that addresses the confidentiality of death investigation records. The provision would have made clear that death investigation records held by law enforcement and deemed confidential under public records law retain that same confidentiality when handed to a state medical examiner.

Protesters camped outside the Executive Mansion demanding that Cooper veto the measure, saying it runs counter to the calls for racial justice that have intensified in North Carolina since the May 25 death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Correction: This story originally stated four former detention officers were charged. The story has been updated to reflect that five former detention officers were in fact charged.