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Video shows prison inmate saying 'I can't breathe' as officers restrain him before he dies

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Forsyth County Jail By KELLY MCCARTHY, ABC News

(NEW YORK) — Video released of five North Carolina detention officers restraining an inmate in a cell shows the prisoner saying “I can’t breathe” before he lost consciousness and died two days later.

The five officers and a nurse were charged last month with involuntary manslaughter in the December 2019 death of John Neville, a 56-year-old Black man, at Forsyth County Detention Center in Winston-Salem.

Neville was being held at the facility on a pending assault charge when he apparently fell from the top bunk of his bed onto a concrete floor, prompting officers to check on him, according to authorities.

“Alright John, we’re going to take your blood pressure,” one of the five officers to respond could be heard telling Neville in body camera footage of the Dec. 2 incident that was released Wednesday.

Things took a turn when the officers put a spit mask over Neville’s head as the nurse attempted to treat him. An autopsy report said he was thrashing and at times unresponsive.

The officers handcuffed Neville behind his back and moved him to another cell for observation.

“I can’t breathe,” he can be heard saying in the video.

The five detention officers restrained him facedown and attempted to unlock the handcuffs, but required the use of bolt cutters to remove them from Neville’s wrists.

Again, Neville said he was having trouble breathing, to which a guard responded, “You can breathe — you’re talking aren’t you?”

Neville died two days later in an area hospital, after jail staff found him not breathing and could not detect a pulse. A medical examiner said he ultimately died from a brain injury that was caused by the way he was being restrained.

The autopsy also found a number of underlying medical conditions, including asthma and heart disease. The five detention officers were fired as a result of the incident.

A spokesperson for Wellpath, the medical agency that employs the nurse, said that she did not engage in misconduct and, when permitted to act, she worked diligently to save Neville’s life. The spokesperson added that she is currently on paid administrative leave and has Wellpath’s complete support.

Forsyth County Superior Court Judge R. Gregory Horne issued a ruling Friday releasing the video footage because he said it “is necessary to advance a compelling public interest.”

The Forsyth County sheriff issued an apology in the wake of the newly released videos.

“I apologize again for what happened on that day,” Sheriff Bobby Kimbrough said at a news conference Tuesday. “We’re sorry for the mistakes made that day. I take responsibility for that as the sheriff.”

Neville’s family, represented by attorney Michael Grace, has filed a civil lawsuit against the county of Forsyth and Wellpath “to see the family is justly compensated.”

“The sheriff has acknowledged mistakes were made and that means a lot to the family. It won’t bring John Neville back … but it goes a way toward causing this terrible scar to heal over again,” Grace said at the news conference.

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