Over the course of three minutes, John Elliott Neville said, "I can't breathe," at least 28 times while he was face down in a "hog-tie" position in a narrow cell at the Foryth County Jail. As he cried for help, a detention officer repeatedly told him to calm down, saying that if he was talking, he was breathing, while several detention officers worked to remove Neville's handcuffs.
At one point, the same detention officer who told Neville to calm down appeared to kneel on Neville's back.
Later, a key broke inside the handcuffs. Another key didn't work and it took two sets of bolt cutters to get the handcuffs off.
As the officers waited for the second pair of bolt cutters to arrive, they asked one another how they were holding up.
One officer asked, "Who's cuffs are those?" Then joked, "It's coming out of your paycheck."
It would be nearly 20 minutes from the time that detention officers placed Neville on his stomach in the cell before CPR would be performed, according to two videos released to media organizations on Wednesday, pursuant to a court order signed by Judge R. Gerald Horne on July 31. The Winston-Salem Journal and the News & Record were among 11 news organizations that petitioned for the videos' release. The News & Observer in Raleigh filed the initial petition.
The officers back out of the cell one by one after they manage to get the handcuffs off Neville and strip him out of his blue pants and a mesh mask covered in what appears to be blood. Outside the cell, they checked to make sure they had gotten all of their equipment and gear out of the cell.
In the background, an inmate yelled, "You killed him!"
The nurse, Michelle Heughins, looked through the cell window for several minutes before whispering to the detention officers that she didn't think Neville was breathing. They went back in, and the second video ends as the detention officers flip Neville onto his back and Heughins begins to perform CPR.
John Neville, 56, had only been at the Forsyth County Jail for 24 hours before the incident on Dec. 2, 2019. He would die two days later at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center. An autopsy report said he died from a brain injury caused when his heart stopped and his brain was deprived of oxygen. He asphyxiated while being restrained with his arms behind his back and his legs folded up, often referred to as "hog-tied." Neville was revived several times, at the jail and in the hospital before eventually going into a coma and dying.
Neville's death has sparked social protests, including an occupy movement at Bailey Park over the past several weeks. Protesters have accused Sheriff Bobby Kimbrough Jr. and O'Neill of a cover-up and demanded answers to specific questions about Neville's death. Members of Neville's family have expressed appreciation for the protests and some of them participated in a rally at Forsyth County Hall of Justice.
The Forsyth County Sheriff's Office did not say anything publicly about Neville's death for seven months — until June 26, prompted by questions from the Winston-Salem Journal. Even then, the department only provided limited information. Kimbrough said he kept Neville's death from the public partly because of a request from his family.
On July 8, Forsyth County District Attorney Jim O'Neill announced criminal charges against five former detention officers and Heughins, 44. The detention officers charged were Lt. Lavette Maria Williams, 47; Cpl. Edward Joseph Roussel, 50; Officer Christopher Bryan Stamper, 42; Officer Antonio Woodley Jr., 26; and Officer Sarah Elizabeth Poole, 36.
Williams is not seen in either of the two videos, but a voice possibly belonging to her is heard recommending straightening Neville's legs at one point. Roussel is the detention officer seen apparently kneeling into Neville's back.
He is also the detention officer who tells Neville at least once, "If you're talking, you're breathing," as Neville pleads for help.
Dec. 2, 2019
At 3:26 a.m. on Dec. 2, 2019, Neville's cellmate notified detention officers that Neville had fallen from his top bunk bed. When detention officers found Neville, he was shaking and sweating, with vomit on his clothes and blood around his mouth.
Heughins and several detention officers are seen in the first video surrounding Neville. Heughins did a sternal rub — a painful stimulus of the chest using her knuckles — and he woke up but incoherent and confused. He struggled with detention officers, who told him that he was having a medical emergency and that he was not in trouble.
The videos show detention officers restraining Neville, with Poole placing her knee on Neville's shoulder. Another detention officer had his arm across Neville's face. At some point, one of the detention officers said Neville was trying to bite, and a "spit mask" was placed over Neville's face. Neville cries out, "Mama" and says "I can't breathe."
They eventually turned him over, handcuffed him, pulled him up and placed him in a restraint chair. They took him to a multi-purpose room on another floor of the cell, where Heughins took his blood pressure but didn't announce what it was.
Then they took him to another cell, where they attempted to remove his ankle restraints and his handcuffs.
Nearly seven minutes into the second video, Neville said again, "I can't breathe." Over the next three minutes, he said the phrase another 27 times.
Roussell told him, "You're breathing because you're talking and yelling. John, you need to stop."
At nine minutes and 10 seconds into the second video, which began around the time Neville was taken into the cell, Neville appeared to say, "I'm going to die."
After jailers stripped Neville of his blue jumpsuit and left the cell, Heughins stood outside and looked through the window. She said, "I can't tell if he's breathing."
Neville moaned as the detention officers came back into the cell and started emergency medical procedures. They flipped him on his back, and Heughins started performing CPR.
"Y'all killed him," one of the inmates said.
The videos below show about 45 minutes of what happened while John Neville was at the Forsyth County jail on Dec. 2, 2019.
Journal photo editor Walt Unks and Lisa O'Donnell contributed to this report.