WINSTON-SALEM — Forsyth County District Attorney Jim O’Neill announced Wednesday that five former Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office detention officers and a nurse at the jail are charged with involuntary manslaughter after John Neville died in December.
Neville was restrained and couldn’t breathe, causing a brain injury which led to his death, according to O’Neill.
Neville, 57, of Greensboro, died Dec. 4, 2019, four days after Kernersville police arrested him on a misdemeanor charge of assault on a female.
But it took seven months before the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office sent out a statement about his death, prompted by questions from the Winston-Salem Journal. Until now, the Sheriff’s Office has released only limited information about the death.
The five detention officers charged are Lavette Marie Williams, Edward Joseph Roussel, Christopher Bryan Stamper, Antonio Maurice Woodley Jr. and Sarah Elizabeth Poole. Their ages and addresses were not immediately available.
Williams, Roussel, Woodley and Poole were all fired from the Sheriff’s Office Tuesday, and Stamper was fired today, according to Forsyth County Special Assistant to the Sheriff Brad Stanley.
O’Neill did not release the name of the nurse, who is also charged with involuntary manslaughter.
The Sheriff’s Office did not notify the public at the time of Neville’s death, and Sheriff Bobby Kimbrough said he did not do so because Neville’s family, and the family’s legal counsel, asked him not to release any information publicly.
In a statement, the sheriff’s office said Neville “experienced a medical emergency,” and was taken to Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center where he later died.
A death certificate for Neville obtained by the Journal lists his cause of death as pending, and said the case has been referred to a medical examiner.
Kimbrough told the Journal on June 26 that he could not comment on the investigation or what led to Neville’s death. He cited the ongoing investigation as the reason why.
Chris Clifton, a prominent Winston-Salem defense lawyer, represents the family and issued the following statement when reached by the Journal last month: “Our firm has been retained to represent John Neville’s estate by the executor, which is one of Mr. Neville’s children.
“This is an extremely personal matter for them, and we’ve been waiting patiently since December to see whether any charges will be brought in connection to his death, and for the autopsy and the death certificate, neither of which has been released yet.” Clifton later clarified he was talking about the cause of death not yet being listed.
Sean Alexander Marquette Neville, one of Neville’s children, established an estate for his father in Guilford Superior Court. According to documents filed in the estate, Neville had at least two other children — a 29-year-old daughter and a 20-year-old son.
Wake Forest conducted an autopsy on Dec. 5, 2019. Dr. William Harrison did the autopsy under the supervision of Dr. Patrick Lantz, according to a March 31 letter to the family’s attorney from Wake Forest School of Medicine.
“A direct cause of death was not identified at autopsy; therefore, Mr. Neville’s death certificate was listed as ‘pending’ upon completion of his autopsy,” Tracy Spry, a medicolegal autopsy coordinator for Wake Forest’s autopsy pathology department.
Spry said Harrison and Lantz had been reviewing records from the Forsyth County Jail. She said in the letter that she could not give a date for when the autopsy would be finalized because of a high volume of other cases and the “recent fallout from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.”
When asked about the SBI investigation into Neville’s death, the sheriff’s office said it was part of its “continued commitment to transparency,” and that the investigation is standard procedure.
The Construction Section, a division of the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, typically investigates when an inmate dies at a county jail. But it did not investigate in this instance because Neville died at the hospital. He was released on an unsecured bond, meaning he was no longer in the jail’s custody.
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