Above photo: An attendee holds up a sign that reads “I Can’t Breathe” on July 26 at a vigil for a protester who was killed at a Black Lives Matter protest in Austin, Texas. Sergio Flores/Getty Images.
Video footage released this week shows events leading up to the death of John Elliott Neville, a 56-year-old man who died in a North Carolina hospital on December 4 after suffering a medical episode in jail the day after he was arrested.
In the videos, which include both body camera and handheld camera footage, Neville could be heard repeatedly telling corrections officers he can’t breathe, calling out for his mother, and begging for help following a medical incident that caused him to fall from the top bunk in his cell to the floor.
North Carolina – Newly released video footage shows a Black man in custody in medical distress, repeatedly telling corrections officers he couldn’t breathe as officers struggled to detain him after he experienced a medical event in a North Carolina jail two days before he died.
Five corrections officers and one nurse have since been fired and charged with involuntary manslaughter for their role in the death of a 56-year-old James Elliott Neville, who died on December 4, 2019, CNN reported Saturday.
The video, released this week as part of a judge’s order, depicts events that occurred at the Forsyth County Jail on December 2, 2019, two days before his death and one day after he was arrested on assault charges by the Kernersville Police Department, according to the report.
The Forsyth County Medical Examiner said Neville’s death was caused by “complications of hypoxic-ischemic brain injury due to cardiopulmonary arrest due to positional and compressional asphyxia during prone restraint.”
The Greensboro, North Carolina, man had been revived several times, both at the jail and in the hospital before he entered a coma and ultimately died, according to the Greensboro News & Record. His autopsy found he asphyxiated while he was restrained with his arms behind his back and his legs folded in a hog-tie position, according to the News & Record.
While he slept, Neville suffered an unknown medical episode, Forsyth County District Attorney Jim O’Neill said, which caused him to fall from his top bunk in his cell to the floor, according to the CNN report. Corrections officers and nurses found him on the floor “disoriented and confused,” according to the report.
Officers decided to move Neville to an observation cell to monitor him, the district attorney said in July, according to the report.
The video shows officers ordered Neville to calm down as they struggled to remove his handcuffs, and he repeatedly said “I can’t breathe”
Throughout the video, officers could be heard repeatedly ordering Neville to remain on the ground, telling him to calm down, and at several points, struggling to remove his handcuffs for several minutes. At one point, an officer told Neville he experienced a seizure.
“Help! My wrists! Help me! Help Me. I can’t breathe,” Neville said at one point in the video.
“John, Listen to me. You are having a medical problem. You need to calm down,” an officer said.
“Let me go! Let me go! Move your hands, let me up! Come on!” Neville said at another point in the video.
“I hear you. You’re talking, you can breathe,” an officer responded.
“Please. I can’t breathe. Let me go! I can’t breathe, let me go. Please,” Neville repeated.
“John, Relax,” an officer said.
At another moment in the videos, Neville repeatedly calls out for his mother, yelling “Mama! Mama! Mama!”
The video showed that officers continued to work to remove Neville’s handcuffs even after he no longer appeared responsive, CNN said. It also showed Neville had a white bag placed over his head to prevent him from spitting on the officers, CNN reported.
The Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office apologized to Neville’s family on Wednesday, CNN reported, but had not previously acknowledged Neville’s death in public until June 26, after it received questions from a local newspaper, according to the News & Record.
“I want to take this opportunity to say how much I appreciate the class in which you have handled the passing of your father,” Forsyth County Sheriff Bobby Kimbrough Jr. said following the court order to release the video footage, according to CNN. “I have stood with you from the beginning and will continue to stand with you.”
In statements to CNN, lawyers for the accused corrections officers denied any wrongdoing related to Neville’s death.
The new footage comes amid continued Black Lives Matter protests that have occurred across the US since the end of May when the police killing of 46-year-old George Floyd in Minneapolis was recorded on video. Floyd also repeatedly said he could not breathe and called out for his mother prior to his May 25 death.
“I can’t breathe” has become a rallying cry for anti-police brutality activists, as the words have been repeatedly uttered by people who have died while in the custody of the law enforcement, as The New York Times noted. At least 70 people — more than half Black — have died in law enforcement custody after uttering the phrase, according to the Times analysis.