Nurse indicted in custody death, no indictment for officers

April 5, 2022 GMT

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (AP) — A grand jury has indicted a nurse on an involuntary manslaughter charge in the 2019 death of a Black man at a North Carolina jail, but declined to indict five former detention officers involved in the incident.

Forsyth County District Attorney Jim O’Neill confirmed that Michelle Heughins, who worked as a nurse at the county’s jail, was indicted Monday in John Neville’s death, which prompted protests during the summer of 2020, news outlets reported.

“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.”

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Neville, 56, of Greensboro, died Dec. 4, 2019, after 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.

An autopsy report said Neville died from a brain injury caused when his heart stopped beating and his brain was deprived of oxygen. He asphyxiated while 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. Late last year, attorneys for Neville’s son and executor of his estate, Sean Neville, filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court. The detention officers and Heughins were named as defendants, along with Forsyth County Sheriff Bobby Kimbrough Jr., Wellpath LLC, the jail’s medical provider at the time, and Forsyth County.

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.”