Winston-Salem, NC — After the death of Eric Garner in 2014 shook the nation, the phrase “I can’t breathe” has become a chilling symbol for violence doled out at the hands of the state. TFTP has reported on multiple instances in which entirely peaceful and often innocent people have muttered those words just before police officers squeeze the last bit of life from their bodies. George Floyd’s last words also partly consisted of “I can’t breathe.” Since his death, TFTP has reported on a half dozen instances in which victims of police violence have managed to say those words just before they die.
“If you can talk, you can breathe!” is the most common response from officers when they squeeze the life out of people in their custody. Unfortunately, however, these cops are almost always wrong.
John Neville begged for his life as multiple deputies piled on top of him as he had a medical emergency.
The incident began when Neville was found semi-conscious on the floor of his jail cell. The deputies continue telling Neville to “calm down” but Neville eventually panics and tries to stand up.
“You had a seizure,” the nurse said. “They’re just taking care of you. They’re doing this so you don’t hurt yourself.”
“You’re going to be alright, buddy,” a deputy says. “You’re going to be alright. You’re having a bit of a medical episode here.”
“I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. Help!” Neville said as deputies retorted, “If you can talk, you can breathe.”
But Neville was telling the truth. He could not breathe.
Neville was being held face down on his stomach, begging to be rolled over so he could catch his breath but the deputies refused. He asked them over 30 times, every one of the requests were denied.
The deputies had put broken handcuffs on Neville and were unable to get them off. Apparently this was humorous to the deputies who began to laugh about it.
“Whose cuffs are those?” A voice out of sight of the camera asks whose cuffs are on Neville.
A deputy says they are his.
The voice says, ‘That’s coming out of your paycheck,’” and the deputies laugh.
One deputy tells others he knows they’re enjoying holding down Neville before offering them a break if they need it.
After a straight 11 minutes with cops on top of him, Neville fell unconscious and stopped breathing.
“You guys killed him,” someone shouts. “You killed him.”
He was transported to the hospital but would not make it.
According to the News & Observer:
An autopsy report listed his cause of death as a lack of oxygen that led to a heart attack and brain injury from being held in prone restraint.
That technique of holding prisoners on their stomach with their arms handcuffed behind their backs and their ankles raised to their wrists is controversial across the country because of the number of deaths it has caused.
On July 8, 2019, seven months after Neville died, Forsyth County District Attorney Jim O’Neill announced felony involuntary manslaughter charges against the six people involved: a nurse and five deputies.
Those charged are identified as deputies Sarah E. Poole, Antonio M. Woodley and Christopher Stamper, Corp. Edward J. Roussel and Sgt. Lavette M. Williams. The nurse is Michelle Heughins.
For months the News & Observer fought for the release of the video but the DA denied it. On July 31, 2020, Superior Court Judge Greg Horne ordered the sheriff’s office to provide two of the videos to the media coalition by noon on Wednesday. The videos were finally released.
After the release of the videos, Neville’s children and dozens of others led a peaceful protest Wednesday night.
Winston-Salem mayor released the following statement regarding the video of Neville’s death:
“We are living in challenging times and this is a difficult day for our city. The video of Mr. Neville’s death is painful to watch, and understandably, it is giving rise to strong emotions. Anyone who has seen the video can fully understand why the Neville family initially asked that the video remain private. And yet they have put the community’s need for transparency above their own need for privacy.
Over the past weeks our citizens have come together to protest injustice and I support their right to protest peacefully. I agree that all the facts and information in this case must be made public. Thus far the process has worked. Charges have been filed and the video has been released.
Today, I’m asking all our citizens to remain peaceful and resist the urge to do something destructive. Let us follow the example of the Neville family and put the good of the community before our own emotions. For justice to prevail we have to allow the judicial process to move forward.
I am keeping the Neville family in my prayers and I ask everyone in the community to do the same.”
Unfortunately enough, this video is eerily similar to the one TFTP reported on Wednesday. In that case, a man was put into a restraint chair during a medical emergency and was not removed until he died. Unlike Neville’s death, however, none of the officers involved in the death of Shaheen Mackey were charged.
Below are the videos, warning, they are disturbing.
News coverage of the video and video summary: