Winston-Salem, North Carolina –A nurse has been indicted by a Forsyth County grand jury for manslaughter in the death of a county inmate.
Forsyth County District Attorney Jim O’Neill confirmed the indictment against Michelle Heughins, who worked as a nurse at the county jail.
According to the autopsy report, inmate John Neville, 56, died on December 4, 2019, of a brain injury caused by positional and compressive asphyxiation while in a prone restraint, that is, while he was held face down and could not breathe.
The grand jury declined to indict five detention officers involved in the incident that led to Neville’s death.
In video from a deputy’s body worn camera, Neville is initially lying on his back, seemingly unconscious, as a nurse tries to wake him up, saying, “Hey John, how are you? I’m fine, I’m fine. Looks like you had a seizure.”
Once awake, Neville appears to struggle against the deputies and the nurse trying to restrain him, and they tell him to stop fighting. As he appears to be calming down, breathing heavily on his back, they tell him he had a medical emergency.
“Help me!” Neville shouts to the officers around him.
“We help you,” replies a deputy.
As Neville struggles to sit up, the deputies continue to hold him on his back. He shouts: “Let me go!” several times, also apparently shouting “Mama” at one point.
A deputy says Neville is trying to bite and asks for chains and a transport chair. They put a “spit mask” on him and flipped him over, as Neville shouted, “Help me, help me, help me, please help!”
Video from another body-worn camera shows the deputies scrambling to restrain Neville, who is on the floor on his stomach. He says, “I can’t breathe,” over and over in the video.
The second video shows Neville with a spit mask on his head in a wheelchair, carried by five deputies.
A nurse is shown taking his blood pressure and then Neville is taken to a multi-purpose room where the deputies pin him to the floor on his stomach while they try to remove the handcuffs. Some seem to be kneeling on Neville.
When a key is inserted into the handcuffs, it breaks in the armband, so another key cannot be used. The assistants try to use bolt cutters, but the first pair does not cut metal.
Meanwhile, Neville is heard saying “Help me!” and “I can’t breathe!” dozens of times. Neville falls silent as the deputies wait for another bolt cutter to be brought in from elsewhere.
The deputies, some of whom appear to still be kneeling over Neville, appear to be joking with each other as they hold him down, with one officer telling another that the broken handcuffs will come out of his paycheck, and his response that “those were good pair.”
By the time a second set of bolt cutters are found to remove the handcuffs, Neville had become unresponsive. The deputies call for medical intervention and another inmate is heard shouting, “You killed him!”
After discovering he had no pulse, Neville underwent CPR and was taken to hospital, where he was pronounced dead. His death was first reported to have occurred “out of police custody” because he had been sent to hospital.
Forsyth Co. Sheriff Bobby Kimbrough said in a statement, “My heart and prayers go out to everyone affected by this incident, but especially the Neville family for the loss of their father.
With respect to the court’s findings and their decision, it would not be appropriate or ethical for me to comment as this is still a pending civil and criminal matter. Again, our prayers are always with the family and everyone involved. May God give us peace and understanding.