Local News

Judge orders video be released in Forsyth inmate's death

Posted July 31, 2020 5:00 p.m. EDT
Updated July 31, 2020 6:18 p.m. EDT

— On Friday, a judge ordered the release of video related to the death of John Neville, an inmate in Forsyth County Detention Center who died while in custody.

WRAL News is part of a media collaborative that petitioned the court to release the video.

According to the autopsy report, Neville, 56, died on Dec. 4, 2019, from a brain injury caused by positional and compressional asphyxia during prone restraint, meaning while he was facedown. The autopsy also reports Neville said, “I can’t breathe” over and over as the detention officers tried unsuccessfully to remove his handcuffs.

On July 8, the Forsyth County District Attorney Jim O'Neill announced that five former detention center officers and a nurse are charged with involuntary manslaughter in Neville’s death.

Multiple media outlets requested videos associated with the incident be made public, and Superior Court Judge Greg Horne heard the petition on Wednesday.

Neville’s family originally opposed release of the video, but on Tuesday, they released the following statement:

After considerable deliberation, discussion and much prayer, the Neville family has decided that it is time for the public to see the video depicting the last moments of their father’s life. While they initially hoped to keep the matter private, it is clear that will never be possible. They are appreciative that all of the involved agencies have been willing to honor their wishes to this point. The family members have not made this decision in a vacuum. They are aware that what happened to their father has happened to countless other sons, brothers, uncles, cousins, fathers and grandfathers. While by law they do not have any standing to support or oppose the decision that will be made on Wednesday, July 29, 2020, they feel it is necessary for all of the stakeholders, protestors and the community at large to know that they will not stand in the way of full transparency.

On Wednesday, Forsyth County Sheriff Bobby Kimbrough also released a statement about the release of the video:

While we knew him as John Neville, his family knows him as dad. We have honored the Neville family’s requests and decisions from the beginning and will continue to do so. I recognize the release of this video is a delicate situation. As the sheriff of Forsyth County, my concerns are always for the well-being and safety of the residents.

As it relates to this particular case, my concerns are four-pronged:

1. The concerns and desires of the residents of Forsyth County

2. The integrity and transparency of the Sheriff’s Office

3. How justice is applied to those involved in this incident

4. And without question, the feelings of the family members of Mr. Neville

While we knew him as John Neville, they still know him as dad. Any decision I have made regarding this incident has been made with the family in mind. I have not only taken the family’s feelings and requests into consideration, but I have supported and honored them. Today, I continued to do so by supporting their request in court.

Whatever is decided, we will honor the judge’s ruling in this matter. As a community, we must stand together and not break one another down but instead break down the barriers that threaten to keep us apart. As your sheriff of the Office of the People, we will always stand on what is moral, what is right and what is legal.

Horne on Friday ordered the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office to release two videos, noting that the other videos that exist show the same events, just from different angles. The video footage must be turned over by noon Aug. 5.

Attorney Mike Tadych represented the media coalition and made the following statement:

Today is a big day in the continuing conversation about increasing transparency of law enforcement’s interaction with all members of the public. Nearly nine months ago, John Elliott Neville died from injuries suffered while in custody in the Forsyth County jail. Eight months after his passing, six workers at the jail were charged with causing the injuries that led to Mr. Neville’s death only a short time after his death was made public. There is a compelling public interest in understanding what happened. Hopefully, the recordings to be released next week will begin to answer that and many other questions.

On behalf of the 11-newsroom coalition who petitioned for release – and the people of North Carolina – we want to thank Judge Horne for his diligence and care in dealing with this matter and for his recognition of the significant public interest in understanding what happened in that jail. Similarly, we appreciate Mr. Neville’s family and their support for the release of these recordings and Sheriff Kimbrough’s acknowledgment of the importance of transparency. While we understand why District Attorney O’Neill and counsel for the defendants opposed release, we are thankful for Judge Horne’s clear understanding that any concerns over pre-trial publicity can be addressed at any trial of these matters.

WRAL will provide an update when the video becomes available.

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