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Civil Rights Lawsuit Filed in John Neville’s Forsyth Co. Jail Custody Death Case

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — On Tuesday, the son of John Neville filed a lawsuit against the Forsyth County Sheriff, five detention officers, and a Forsyth County Jail nurse for the 2019 death of his father.

The federal lawsuit alleges that Neville’s civil rights were violated when detention officers and a nurse ignored his medical distress and pinned him down in a prone position while he yelled out 30 times that he could not breathe.

Neville was being held at the Forsyth County jail on a misdemeanor charge when he suffered a medical emergency that caused him to fall off his top bunk onto the concrete floor.

When detention officers and an on-call nurse arrived at the cell, they found Neville on the floor, sweating with vomit on his clothes and blood around his mouth.

According to the lawsuit, despite the fact that Neville was considered a special needs inmate due to his asthma, he was not immediately sent to the hospital. Instead, he was pinned to the floor while nurse Michelle Heughins tried to get a pulse. He was then handcuffed, placed in a restraint chair and taken to a multipurpose room on another floor of the jail.

While being transported, Neville defecated on himself. Nothing was done.

Upon reaching the multipurpose room, Heughins attempted to get Neville’s pulse again while he was still in the restraint chair with restraints on his ankles and handcuffed behind his back.

They then took him to another cell, placed a mattress on the floor and put Neville face down on the mattress while detention officers piled on top of him trying to take the hand and ankle restraints off. Neville pleaded for his asthma inhaler. He was ignored, according to the suit.

When the ankle restraints were finally removed, Nevilles legs were pushed up to his buttocks in a trifold position. Neville said “I can’t breathe 30” times, the lawsuit said.

After about two minutes of being in the prone position with officers trying to remove the handcuffs, the cuff key broke off in the left handcuff.

Neville asked to be turned over so he could breathe.

Corporal Roussel told Mr. Neville that he was breathing because he was talking and yelling,” the lawsuit said.

Still unable to remove the handcuffs, officers tried to use a bolt cutter. The first attempt didn’t work and one of the officers had to go get another bolt cutter that did work.

By the time the officers removed the handcuffs, Neville had been in a prone position for 12 minutes. Heughins started CPR when she realized Neville wasn’t breathing – nearly 20 minutes after he was first placed in the prone. He was revived multiple times both at the jail and at the hospital before he went into a coma. He died at Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist medical center on Dec. 4, 2019.

The medical examiner ruled Neville died from a brain injury due to cardiac arrest, due to asphyxia during a prone restraint — which is being restrained in the facedown position.

The 56-year-old, father of five, suffocated while being restrained with his arms behind his back and his legs folded up. A restraint often referred to as being “hog-tied.”

The lawsuit filed last week by his son, Sean Neville, outlines 12 different claims, including negligence, wrongful death and violations of federal civil rights laws. The lawsuit asks for compensatory damages totaling about $300,000 and an unknown amount of punitive damages.

A trial date has not been set for the lawsuit.

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