Serving Time At The Forsyth Detention Center Shouldn’t Be A Death Sentence

After months of silence about the December 2019 death of John Neville while in the custody of the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Department, answers have finally been provided. Forsyth County D.A., Jim O’Neill’s mid-day press conference, was illuminating. O’Neill described how John Neville died and announced that he would bring involuntary manslaughter charges against five guards and one nurse at the Forsyth County Detention Center.

“On December 2nd of 2019, John Neville was an inmate in the Forsyth County Detention Center. He had a pending charge of assault on a female, that arose out of an incident in Greensboro. At approximately 3:24 AM, John Neville suffered an unknown medical condition as he slept. Which caused him to fall from the top bunk of his cell and onto the concrete floor. Jail detention officers, as well as the on-call nurse, were dispatched to Neville’s cell. Upon arrival, detention officers, as well as the on-call nurse found a disorientated and confused, John Neville.

The decision was made to move Mr. Neville to an observation cell, to try and determine what was causing his distress. It was over the next approximately 45 minutes that Mr. Neville would sustain injuries that would eventually cause him to lose his life. A request was made on December the 5th, 2019 by Sheriff Kimbrough and the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office, to have the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation called in to investigate the circumstances of Mr. Neville’s death. Special Agent in Charge, Scott Williams was assigned the case and conducted the investigation. Agent Williams, upon completion of the matter and his investigation, turned over his findings to the Forsyth County District Attorney’s Office in April of this year. A video of the incident was also subsequently provided to me as well.

The medical examiner who conducted the autopsy of Mr. Neville, Dr. Patrick Lance of Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center, recently completed his final report and submitted his findings and opinions to me. That report will now be made public. That manner of death in the autopsy report includes Dr. Lance’s findings that Mr. Neville died of complications of hypoxic-ischemic brain injury, due to cardiopulmonary arrest, due to positional and compressional asphyxia, during prone restraint. Other significant conditions found, according to Dr. Lance, include acute, altered mental status and asthma. According to Dr. Lance’s report, Mr. Neville repeatedly said, “I can’t breath” as detention officers tried unsuccessfully to remove his handcuffs.

Now, based on my review of the videotapes, the evidence provided in the SBI investigation, and the expert opinion of the medical examiner, Dr. Lance as to the cause of death of Mr. Neville. I shared with Special Agent Williams my belief that probable cause existed to present involuntary manslaughter charges to a Magistrate for consideration. In regards to the individuals that had been assigned to care for Mr. Neville, back on December 2nd, in those unfortunate early morning hours. After presenting probable cause, to Chief Magistrate, Denise Hines, six counts of involuntary manslaughter were brought forth against six individuals. Five of the individuals are former detention officers. And the sixth is for the nurse that was on duty that morning.

Over the last several weeks I have had the opportunity to discuss some of the findings and opinions in this investigation, as they became known to me privately, with the two adult children of Mr. Neville; Shaun and Brie who are with us today. And we talked about the cause and manner of death of their father. We have all shed a few tears over these circumstances, collectively and privately.

In just a few moments, I am going to let you hear from either Shaun or Brie or their family attorneys. But I would be remiss in my duties if I did not provide this message to the citizens of this community, of this state, and of this country; we have all been witnesses to the unrest that has gripped our world over the last several weeks. As it relates specifically to your father, Mr. Neville, his death was avoidable. And that is a tragic, singular fact. Consequently, charges have been brought forth. ” -Forsyth County District Attorney, Jim O’Neill

This story is still unfolding. Sheriff Kimbrough and D.A. O’Neill still need to answer for keeping the public in the dark. Seven months is too long to wait for answers. The public has a right to be promptly informed when someone dies in police custody.

While John Neville’s murder is another shocking, senseless, and infuriating modern-day lynching of a Black man. I think it’s important to focus on the medical neglect angle.

D.A. Jim O’Neill called John Neville’s death “avoidable.” The Forsyth County Detention Center has a troubling record of avoidable deaths. Earlier this week, an inmate at our modern downtown jail was found dead, in what appears to be a suicide. With better supervision, Anthony Robert Giles (age 31) would still be alive today.

Preventable deaths have become almost predictable at the Forsyth County Detention Center.

  • Dino Nixon died in 2013, after being refused his medications. Nixon was awaiting drug trafficking charges.
  • Jen McCormack died in 2014 from severe drug withdrawal, while awaiting prescription drug charges.
  • Deshawn Coley died of asthma in 2017. He was serving a six-month sentence after being convicted of driving while impaired.
  • Stephen Patterson died from complications of heart disease, also in 2017. His family stated that Patterson was denied medications that he requested. According to the Journal’s Michael Hewlitt, “Stephen Patterson was being held in jail until he paid $728 in back child support to the office of the Forsyth County Clerk of Court.”
  • John Neville, according to D.A. Jim O’Neill, fell from the top bunk of a bunk bed, which injured and confused Mr. Neville. But it was the detention center’s restraint that took John Neville’s life in a manner similar to how George Floyd and Eric Garner were murdered at the hands of police.

Last September, The Atlantic published an excellent long-form article on the problem of medical care in prisons. There are very few providers and essentially they’re all terrible. They routinely deny essential medical care to cut costs and then settle wrongful death lawsuits on the backend. Their disdain for human lives probably makes Reynolds and British American Tobacco blush.

While telling the story of deplorable jail and prison health care around the country, The Atlantic focused on preventable deaths at the Forsyth County Detention Center. When Sheriff Kimbrough came into office, he committed to working with the detention center’s healthcare provider, Correct Care Solutions, now called Wellpath. His efforts impressed The Atlantic. But having an active sheriff hasn’t transformed Wellpath into a decent healthcare provider.

According to The Atlantic, “the county’s initial three-year contract with Wellpath is up in August 2020.” Back in 2017, the County Commissioners approved a multi-million dollar contract with Correct Care Solutions (now Wellpath) by a 5-2 vote.

It’s going to be expensive as hell for Wake Forest Baptist or Novant to break into the incarcerated healthcare field. But it can be done. And if it can’t be done, then shut the Forsyth County Detention Center down!

“Forsyth County’s 1,016-bed jail is a ruddy, block-long building that matches the color of the red clay earth where it sits, surrounded by the government offices, courthouses, and fuchsia-bloomed crape myrtles of downtown Winston-Salem. From the jail, walk a few blocks northeast, and you’ll arrive at the Wake Forest Innovation Quarter, a mixed-use research center built in the old R. J. Reynolds Tobacco complex. The quarter is bordered with a cocktail bar, luxury loft apartments, a High Line look-alike, and the Wake Forest School of Medicine, the teaching branch of Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, which provides the jail’s off-site, emergency care.

About a month after her son, Stephen Patterson, died in the county jail, Miles attended the meeting in which the commissioners debated the single bid for the inmates’ health care. Miles wanted to know how hard the county had worked to scout a local provider. With Wake Forest training doctors just a few minutes’ walk from the jail, why wouldn’t it take the contract? Watts, the county manager, told me the county tried to persuade local providers such as Wake Forest to bid on it. “We are a medical community, and we ought to be able to figure out how not to have to go to a big, multistate national provider,” he said. But there were no takers. Wake Forest did not respond to multiple requests for comment.” 

The Private Option, Marsha McLeod. September 12, 2019


“We have always stood for transparency and truth, no matter how the sword falls; for us or against us… Good men and women made bad decisions that day. And as a result, a good man died.”        -Sheriff, Bobby Kimbrough


The Infamous, Forsyth County Detention Center, cleverly designed hide the presence of prisoners. 


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