Racist Police Killings in U.S. Just Keep Going On
WASHINGTON (Dispatches) -- Video that shows a Black man in apparent medical distress repeatedly telling officers, "I can’t breathe,” days before he died in a hospital was released this week following a North Carolina judge’s order.
John Elliott Neville, 56, of Greensboro, also can be heard telling officers, "Let me go!” and "Help me!” and calling out, "Mama!” during the episode a day after his December 1 arrest. He became unresponsive during the incident and died later at a hospital.
The five corrections officers and the nurse who attended to Neville leading up to his death have been charged with involuntary manslaughter by Forsyth County District Attorney Jim O’Neill. They have been relieved of duty, the sheriff’s office said.
The case marks the latest chapter in an unfolding, nationwide reckoning over how police treat Black people. Protests from coast to coast have continued since the May death in Minneapolis police custody of George Floyd, who cried out that he couldn’t breathe as an officer knelt on his neck; Floyd also pleaded for his mother’s aid in his dying moments.
Neville was arrested by the Kernersville Police Department on a charge of assault on a female out of Guilford County, according to the sheriff’s office.
While in custody at the Forsyth County Law Enforcement Center, he experienced an unknown medical emergency while he slept that caused him to fall out of his top bunk to the floor, O’Neill said last month during a news conference.
Corrections officers and a nurse
were dispatched to his cell, where they found Neville disoriented and confused, O’Neill said. The decision was made to move him to an observation cell to see what was causing his distress. Over the next 45 minutes, Neville sustained injuries that caused him to lose his life, O’Neill said.
Videos taken from body and handheld cameras inside the detention facility on December 2 show at least five officers attending to Neville in his cell where he is on the ground. Officers can be heard in the 45-minute video asking him to stay down and informing him that he’d just had a seizure.
Neville can be heard screaming, "Hold on, let me up, and let me up,” while officers restrain him on the ground and he struggles with them. Neville yells, "Help me, help me,” several times and can be heard yelling, "Mama! Mama! Mama!” and several expletives.
Neville is wheeled to another room where a nurse checks his blood pressure. The nurse asks Neville if he knows where he is, and he says he does not. The nurse can be heard telling him to "stay relaxed,” and Neville continues to struggle and yell, "Help me, somebody! Help me, somebody!” The nurse tells him they are helping him and to calm down.
Moments later, Neville is moved into another cell where he is placed on the ground and restrained by officers who appear to be trying again to take handcuffs off him. Neville continues to yell, "Help! My wrists! Help me! Help Me. I can’t breathe.” An officer tells him, "I hear you. You’re talking, you can breathe.”
Neville continues, saying, "Please. I can’t breathe. Let me go! I can’t breathe, let me go. Please.” An officer responds, "John, Relax.” Neville continues to cry out in despair, saying, "I can’t breathe” several times.
Neville became unresponsive at some point while officers were attempting to remove the handcuffs, according to an investigation report from the Forsyth County Medical Examiner. CPR was started by medical personnel, and EMS was called.
Upon EMS arrival, Neville’s pupils were dilated and nonreactive, the report states. He was taken to Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, where he died December 4.
Neville’s cause of death is listed as "complications of hypoxic ischemic brain injury due to cardiopulmonary arrest due to positional and compressional asphyxia during prone restraint,” according to the autopsy report released by the medical examiner’s office. Other significant conditions were listed as "acute altered mental status” and asthma.”