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Nurse Indicted in Custody Death, Officers Not Indicted

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A nurse has been indicted on an involuntary manslaughter charge in the 2019 death of a Black man at a North Carolina jail, but five former detention officers involved in the incident have not been indicted.

The district attorney said that a grand jury indicted Michelle Heughins on a charge of involuntary manslaughter in the death of John Neville, a Black man who was in custody at the Forsyth County jail. The indictment comes after protests erupted in the county over Neville’s death during the summer of 2020.

“While I was disappointed in today’s outcome, our prosecutors will continue to meet again with investigators and speak with the Neville family and their attorneys before deciding on any further action,” O’Neill said in a statement. “I understand that there is a great deal of interest in this case, and I ask for the continued peaceful support of this community as we gather with the Neville family in determining how we will proceed from here.”

Neville, 56, of Greensboro, died after a medical emergency at the Forsyth County jail on December 4th, 2019. Dashcam footage showed him struggling with guards to get up from where he was lying on the floor; yelling for his mother and repeatedly yelling “I can’t breathe!” more than 20 times as he was being restrained. Neville had been arrested a few days earlier.

The autopsy report said that Neville died from a brain injury caused by his heart stopping and his brain being deprived of oxygen while he was being restrained with his arms behind his back and his legs folded.

The five former officers and Heughins were charged in 2020 with involuntary manslaughter in Neville’s death. Sean Neville, the son of the deceased and executor of his estate, filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court late last year. The detention officers and Heughins, as well as Forsyth County Sheriff Bobby Kimbrough Jr., Wellpath LLC (the jail’s medical provider at the time), and Forsyth County were named as defendants in the lawsuit.

Claire J. Rauscher, one of Heughins’ attorneys, said Monday that her client will be fully vindicated when the case gets to trial.

“Michelle Heughins was the only person who tried to save Mr. Neville at the jail that day,” Rauscher said. “It was the detention officers who restrained him and put him on his stomach, handcuffed, and had her leave the room.”

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