As the Winston-Salem Journal reports, Forsyth County District Attorney Jim O’Neil announced this week that five former detention officers and a nurse have been charged with involuntary manslaughter following the death of John Neville at the Forsyth County Detention Center in December. The announcement of the charges came the day before an autopsy report was released that said that Neville’s death was caused in part by a restraint technique used by detention officers while Neville was in the midst of a medical emergency. Five people were arrested for impeding traffic at a protest outside the detention center on Wednesday where they were calling for the release of video footage of the events surrounding Neville’s death. Keep reading for more on this story and other news.
Neville. On December 2, John Neville was in pretrial detention after being arrested on an assault on a female charge. According to the Winston-Salem Journal, in the early hours of the morning his cellmate alerted detention center staff that Neville appeared to have fallen out of his bunk and to be experiencing seizures. As jail staff attended to Neville, he went in and out of consciousness and often was disoriented and uncooperative during the times that he was conscious. While he was in an observation cell following the immediate response and ordeal surrounding the seizure incident, he was handcuffed and placed in a hog-tie position where he said that he couldn’t breathe. Officers then tried to remove his handcuffs, but a key broke and two sets of bolt cutters were required to remove the cuffs. After the cuffs were removed, and during which time he had stopped talking and moving, Neville was left alone in the observation cell. A nurse, one of the people charged this week, eventually noticed that he appeared to not be breathing and, after being given CPR, he was transported to Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center where he died two days later.
Federal Executions. Last July the News Roundup noted that Attorney General William Barr had announced that the Department of Justice would reinstate a policy allowing the federal government’s use of capital punishment and that the first federal execution in nearly two decades was scheduled for last December. That execution did not take place as scheduled but, as USA Today reported this week, federal executions now are expected to resume on Monday following Barr’s direction last month to the Federal Bureau of Prisons to schedule the executions of four death-row inmates. Three of those executions are to take place next week and the fourth is scheduled for the end of August.
Lee. Daniel Lewis Lee is the first federal prisoner scheduled to be executed and his case illustrates the complexity and controversy that surrounds the use of the death penalty in the American criminal justice system. As the USA Today story explains, Lee was convicted in the late 1990’s of killing a family of three, including a child, as part of a robbery intended to help fund a white supremacist group of which Lee was a member. His accomplice, Chevie Kehoe, was considered by prosecutors to be the leader of the murder plot and was the person who actually killed the child victim, but a jury sentenced Kehoe to life in prison rather than to death.
When Kehoe’s sentence was handed down, prosecutors handling Lee’s case requested permission from the Department of Justice to withdraw the case’s capital designation but that request was denied and Lee ultimately was sentenced to death. In the years following Lee’s conviction, the lead prosecutor, the presiding judge, and the victims’ family all have publicly expressed their view that he should not be executed. Despite the family’s stated opposition to Lee’s execution, Attorney General Barr said last month that “[w]e owe it to the victims of these horrific crimes, and to the families left behind, to carry forward with the sentence imposed by our justice system.” A few days later the family again asked that Lee not be executed.
COVID. WLOS had two reports this week illustrating the ongoing influence of the coronavirus pandemic on the operation of the state criminal justice system. On Tuesday it was reported that the staff of the Yancey County Sheriff’s Office were undergoing COVID testing after “several” employees tested positive. On Thursday, the Rutherford County Clerk of Superior Courts Office announced that it was closing through next Friday so that staff there can be tested following a confirmed case of COVID there.
Alamance Protests. The Greensboro News & Record reported this week that protests against a Confederate statue in Graham resumed this week after a federal judge issued a temporary restraining order that prevents local officials from enforcing policies that essentially amounted to a ban on protests. Near the end of June, the city adopted an ordinance requiring permits for and placing other restrictions on protests and the Alamance County Sheriff’s Office announced that it would not issue any protest permits. The ACLU and other groups filed a lawsuit alleging that the policies were unconstitutional and requested the temporary restraining order.
California Hangings. The News Roundup previously noted that federal authorities were taking a closer look at the recent hanging deaths of two black men in California that initially were ruled suicides to see whether the deaths may have involved foul play. One of the deaths was conclusively ruled a suicide at the end of June, and the other, that of Robert Fuller, was conclusively ruled a suicide this week according to the Los Angeles Times.