KEY POINTS

  • Bodycam footage released Wednesday showed Black inmate John Neville saying, "I can't breathe," while being restrained by five guards after he suffered what was said to be a seizure in December 
  • Neville was rushed to a local hospital after he was found unresponsive and pronounced dead two days later from a brain injury he suffered while being restrained
  • The guards and a nurse from North Carolina's Forsyth County Detention Center are facing charges of involuntary manslaughter 

North Carolina authorities released bodycam footage from a county detention center showing five guards restraining a Black inmate who is heard saying, “I can’t breathe,” before falling unconscious and dying two days later.

The footage from last December shows the altercation between the five guards and the inmate, identified as John Neville, at the Forsyth County Detention Center in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Neville was being held at the detention center for an alleged assault when he reportedly fell from the top bunk onto the concrete floor. Five guards and a nurse went to check on him when he started thrashing on the floor, apparently suffering a seizure. He is heard yelling, “Help me,” and asking to be released.

He is next seen strapped to a restraining chair being moved to a smaller cell and continuing to scream for help. Once in the cell, Neville is heard repeatedly saying, “I can’t breathe,” while on his stomach as the guards struggled to remove his handcuffs.

Neville eventually stops yelling and thrashing. Police fold his legs back and leave the room. The group reenters after the nurse asks if he is breathing and is heard saying, “I can’t hear a heart rate." He was rushed to a local hospital. He was comatose for two days before dying.

An autopsy ruled Neville’s death was caused by a brain injury he suffered while being restrained by the guards, who were charged with involuntary manslaughter in July. The officers were identified as Michelle Heughins, Antonio Woodley, Christopher Stamper, Edward Roussel, Lavette Williams and Sarah Poole.

The videos are the latest to be released involving a Black man saying, “I can’t breathe,” a phrase that became synonymous with the death of George Floyd, who was killed while being restrained by a white police office in Minneapolis. It has since become a rallying cry for the Black Lives Matter movement and heard in various other videos released since June showing Black men being forcefully restrained by authorities.

A candle-light vigil was held for Neville Wednesday with demonstrators calling for swift justice against the six former-detention center staffers involved.

“The video won’t show anyone kicking Mr. Neville or hitting Mr. Neville or actively attacking him,” Mike Grace, the attorney for Neville’s family, told reporters. “They just didn’t give a damn about him, and I don’t know which is worse. It was a life, according to the coroner, that he shouldn’t have died. Didn’t have to die.”

Prison cell File photo of a prison cell. Photo: TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images