John Neville, 56

Winston-Salem, North Carolina
December 01, 2019

Agencies: Forsyth County Attorney North Carolina | Forsyth County Sheriff's Office North Carolina | State Bureau of Investigations SBI North Carolina

Cause of death: Choking

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Last updated: almost 4 years ago


John Neville, 56, had been booked into the Forsyth County jail in Winston-Salem, N.C., on Dec. 1., 2019, on a charge of assaulting a woman, according to the authorities. About 24 hours later, Mr. Neville experienced an unknown medical condition that caused him to fall from the top bunk of his cell and hit the concrete floor, according to the Forsyth County district attorney, Jim O’Neill.

Detention officers and an on-call nurse found Mr. Neville disoriented and confused and took him to an observation cell, Mr. O’Neill said at a news conference on Wednesday.

Mr. O’Neill did not detail what happened next, or say specifically what role prosecutors believe the officers and the nurse had in Mr. Neville’s death. But he said that over the next 45 minutes, Mr. Neville “would sustain injuries that would eventually cause him to lose his life.”

Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office submitted a death report of John Neville that is missing all information regarding supervision; it’s missing the name of the jailer and reports of when John Neville was OK and when he was in distress; his cause of death is listed as ‘unknown.’” 

The episode was captured on video, and Mr. O’Neill said that an autopsy report found that Mr. Neville repeatedly said, “I can’t breathe,” as officers tried to remove his handcuffs. The autopsy found that Mr. Neville died of a brain injury because of cardiopulmonary arrest that was caused by “positional and compressional asphyxia during prone restraint.” The report also cited other “significant conditions” that Mr. Neville had, Mr. O’Neill said, including “acute altered mental status” and asthma. Mr. Neville died on Dec. 4, 2019, at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center.

Legal Action

In July 2020, five former Forsyth County Detention Center officers and a nurse were charged with involuntary manslaughter in the Dec. 4, 2019 death of a man, Forsyth County District Attorney Jim O'Neill announced.

July 2020

Negotiations between state Republican legislative leadership and Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper may result in the removal of controversial language involving death investigations records.

Senate Bill 168 would make private “all information and records provided by a city, county or other public entity to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, or its agents, concerning a death investigation ...”

As public awareness of the bill’s death investigation language grows, including being the focus of protests in Winston-Salem and Raleigh, Cooper is facing pressure to veto the bill.

On July 10, a judge agreed to delay a hearing for two weeks over whether he will release videos of the death of Neville. Forsyth County District Attorney Jim O’Neill motioned for the July 15 hearing to be delayed due to his vacation plans and the need for attorneys for the people charged in the death to have time to review the footage, as well as because of concerns about whether the public should see the videos before any civil or criminal proceedings.

In August 2020, Forsyth County Superior Court Judge R. Gregory Horne said in a five-page ruling that releasing the video of John Neville, a 56-year-old Black man from Greensboro, "is necessary to advance a compelling public interest."

Community and Family Efforts

July 2020 Activists oppose police secrecy in Senate Bill 168