5 April 2022
Winston-Salem, N.C. — A nurse has been indicted by a Forsyth County grand jury for involuntary 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’s jail.
According to the autopsy report, inmate John Neville, 56, died on Dec. 4, 2019, from a brain injury that was caused by positional and compressional asphyxia during prone restraint, meaning while he was being held face down and could not breathe.
The grand jury declined to indict five detention officers who were involved in the incident that led to Neville’s death.
In one video from a deputy’s body-worn camera, Neville is first on his back, apparently unconscious, as a nurse tries to wake him, saying, “Hey John, how you doing? You’re okay, you’re okay. It looks like you had a seizure.”
Once awake, Neville appears to struggle against the deputies and nurse trying to restrain him, and they tell him to stop fighting. As he appears to calm down, breathing heavily on his back, they tell him he’s had a medical emergency.
“Help me!” Neville shouts at the officers around him.
“We are helping you,” a deputy responds.
As Neville struggles to sit up, deputies continue to hold him down on his back. He shouts, “Let me up!” several times, also apparently shouting “Mama” at one point.
A deputy says Neville is trying to bite and asks for shackles and a transport chair. They put a “spit mask” on him and roll him over, as Neville shouts, “Help me, help me, help me, help me please!”
Video from a different body-worn camera, shows the deputies working 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 over his head in a wheelchair, being transported 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 down on the floor on his stomach while they try to remove his handcuffs. Some appear to be kneeling on Neville.
When a key is put in the handcuffs, it breaks off in the cuff, so another key cannot be used. Deputies try to use bolt cutters, but the first pair doesn’t cut the metal.
During this time, Neville is heard saying “Help me!” and “I can’t breathe!” dozens of times. Neville becomes quiet as the deputies wait for another bolt cutter to be brought from somewhere else.
The deputies, some of whom appear to still be kneeling on Neville, appear to joke with one another as they hold him down, with one officer telling another that the broken handcuffs will come out of his paycheck, and his reply that “Those were a good pair.”
By the time a second set of bolt cutters is found to remove the cuffs, Neville had become unresponsive. The deputies call for a medical response, and another inmate can be heard shouting, “You guys killed him!”
After he was found to have no pulse, Neville was given CPR and taken to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead. His death was initially reported as having happened “out of custody” because he had been sent to the hospital.
Forsyth Co. Sheriff Bobby Kimbrough said in a statement: “My heart and my prayers go out to all those affected by this incident, but especially to the Neville family for the loss of their father.
As it relates to the findings of the court and their determination, it would not be proper or ethical for me to comment as this is still a civil and criminal case up for litigation. Again, our prayers are still with the family and all those involved. May God give us peace and understanding.”