Family of Black man who died in custody files lawsuit

North Carolina

John Neville (WGHP photo)

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (AP) — The family of a Black man who died in a North Carolina jail two years ago has filed a lawsuit saying his civil rights were violated when detention officers and a nurse ignored his medical distress and pinned him on a mattress as he yelled that he couldn’t breathe.

Among the issues pointed out in the 74-page lawsuit was a handwritten note from a captain in the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office to emergency workers after John Neville reached the hospital on Dec. 2, 2019, the Winston-Salem Journal reported. The note said: “Call if and when there is a time of death and if an autopsy is performed. We need to know yes or no. Thank you.”

“The callousness of this note demonstrates that correctional defendants were more concerned with the potential fallout from their treatment of Mr. Neville than they were for Mr. Neville’s wellbeing,” the lawsuit said.

Neville died after having a medical emergency at the Forsyth County jail. Body camera videos showed him struggling with guards to get up from where he lay on the floor, calling out for his mother and yelling “I can’t breathe!” more than 20 times as he was being restrained. Neville had been arrested several days earlier.

Five former detention officers and a nurse were charged with involuntary manslaughter in Neville’s death. A trial date has not yet been set. Attorneys for Neville’s son and executor of his estate, Sean Neville, filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court. The detention officers and nurse were named as defendants, along with Forsyth County Sheriff Bobby Kimbrough Jr., Wellpath LLC, the jail’s medical provider at the time, and Forsyth County.

“In keeping with our previous stance, we had hoped to quietly and privately resolve our differences with Forsyth County, the Sheriff’s office and Wellpath,” Sean Neville said. “They have made that impossible and so now we have hired the lawyers at Kilpatrick Townsend to help us seek the fair and just outcome which none of us children nor our father John have yet received.”

The newspaper said it was unable to reach for comment any of the attorneys representing the detention officers and the nurse.

Kimbrough didn’t publicly acknowledge Neville’s death for six months. But in June 2020, prompted by questions from the Winston-Salem Journal, the sheriff provided limited information, the newspaper said.

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