Settlement Awards $3M to Family of Man who Died in Custody

May 27, 2022

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (AP) — The family of a Black man who yelled that he couldn’t breathe before he died in a North Carolina jail in 2019 has reached a $3 million settlement in its wrongful-death lawsuit, according to court documents filed Wednesday.

John Neville’s family reached the settlement with all five former jailers who were initially charged with involuntary manslaughter in his death as well as with Forsyth County government and Forsyth County Sheriff Bobby Kimbrough Jr., the Winston-Salem Journal reported.

The settlement was reached during a mediation meeting April 19. In that settlement, the detention officers, Forsyth County and Kimbrough do not admit liability.

The family said Neville’s civil rights were violated when detention officers and a nurse ignored his medical distress and pinned him on a mattress as he yelled that he couldn’t breathe.

Neville died on Dec. 4, 2019 after having a medical emergency at the Forsyth County jail. Body camera videos showed him struggling with guards to get up from where he lay on the floor, calling out for his mother and yelling “I can’t breathe!” more than 20 times as he was being restrained. Neville had been arrested several days earlier.

Kimbrough did not publicly acknowledge Neville’s death until about six months later, when he was questioned by the Journal in June 2020.

Claims are still pending against Michelle Heughins, a nurse who worked at the Forsyth County jail, and Wellpath LLC, the jail’s former medical provider. In July 2020, Forsyth County District Attorney Jim O’Neill announced involuntary manslaughter charges against Heughins and the five former detention officers.

In April, a Forsyth County grand jury declined to indict the five former jailers on involuntary manslaughter charges. Heughins was indicted, and her case is pending in Forsyth County Superior Court.

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