Video released Wednesday shows a Black man incarcerated in a North Carolina prison being restrained and telling officers, “I can’t breathe.” Two days later, 56-year-old John Neville died of injuries related to the incident. The video of the December 2 incident was released after Forsyth County Superior Court Judge R. Gregory Horne issued a ruling allowing it because he said the footage "is necessary to advance a compelling public interest,” ABC News reported.
Neville was being held at the Forsyth County Detention Center in Winston-Salem on a pending charge of assaulting a woman; he was booked into the jail on December 1, the day before the incident. He reportedly fell from the top bunk in his cell and a nurse and five officers responded to offer assistance. After checking his vitals, a bag was placed over his head supposedly to prevent him from spitting, he was handcuffed, and transferred to another cell for monitoring. The video shows him face down with five officers holding him down, hands cuffed behind his back, while he repeatedly says, “I can’t breathe.”
While the correctional officers attempted to remove the cuffs and could not, needing bolt cutters to ultimately remove them, Neville remained face down and complained that he was having trouble breathing. At one point, one of the officers responds, "You can breathe -- you're talking aren't you?"
Neville died two days later in a hospital, and an autopsy concluded that he died from a brain injury caused by the way he had been restrained.
All five officers have were fired after the incident, while the nurse is on paid leave and has the support of Wellpath, the company that employs her. A spokesperson for Wellpath told ABC News that the nurse did not engage in any misconduct and when she was able to treat Neville, she tried to save him.
All six were charged with involuntary manslaughter and the Forsyth County Sheriff has issued an apology, admitting that “mistakes were made” that day and saying he cried upon seeing the footage. According to the New York Times, the sheriff, Bobby F. Kimbrough Jr., offered to name the housing unit of the jail after Neville “as a reminder to let [people incarcerated there] know that life is paramount in how we do business.”
The video is one more in a long line of cases where Black people are restrained and plead that they cannot breathe shortly before they die. Eric Garner in 2014; Elijah McLean in 2019; George Floyd and 16-year-old Cornelius Fredericks in 2020. The New York Times published a report earlier this year examining 70 cases in which a victim said they couldn’t breathe before dying in police custody, over half of which were Black.
On Wednesday night, following the release of the footage, a vigil was held to remember Neville. Earlier that afternoon, Neville’s family joined protesters as they marched outside the courthouse in Winston-Salem.