Protesters with the Triad Abolition Project’s #OccupyWSNC movement have spent the last three weeks in Bailey Park from 10 a.m. until 10 p.m., and they aren’t going anywhere until their demands are met. On Aug. 4, the ACLU of North Carolina released a petition outlining the Triad Abolition Project’s demands, and since its release, the petition has been garnering signatures and attention on social media.
Last Wednesday, a hearing was held in the Forsyth County Superior Court to determine if the video depicting circumstances leading up to John Neville’s death would be released to the public—that Friday, Judge Greg Horne decided in favor of releasing two videos to the media on Aug. 5. That same day, occupiers have planned a 3 p.m. rally at the Forsyth County Courthouse, located at 200 N. Main St., to support the Neville family.
“Please come together in solidarity and messages of loving support for the family on this difficult day,” the flyer states. “Let’s amplify the legacy of John E. Neville and say his name together.”
At first, Neville’s family told YES! Weekly they did not want the footage to be released to the public; however, that decision changed on July 28 to honor their father’s memory and “to make sure we find justice.”
“This isn’t initially what we wanted; we wanted things to remain private,” said John Neville’s son, Sean Neville, following the hearing on July 29. “We didn’t want it to get to the point where we felt the video needed to come out, but here we are.”
Sean said that he appreciated the judge allowing his family’s feelings to be considered.
“This wasn’t a decision that we came to overnight,” he said. “Of course, we don’t want anything bad to happen to anybody who was involved—we want them to have the fair trial they are entitled to, but we want them to be held responsible.”
John Neville’s youngest son, Kris Neville, said that he believed that the release of the video would reveal the truth, which would get rid of “a lot of the fog that may have been placed over the situation.”
Brienne Neville, John Neville’s daughter, said the decision wasn’t easy because it is a “very public thing for a private matter.” She said her family members are “expected to have pity” on the six people charged with involuntary manslaughter in connection to her father’s death.
“And make no mistake: we do,” she said. “We are told they have received threats or have had to move for fear of their lives—at least they have a life to fear for, our father does not. We do not, in any way, condone violence or retaliation against those charged. We do, however, encourage the public to peacefully protest and continue to push for reform. Our efforts are not just for justice for our father but for your fathers, your children, your families who feel the daily pain and pressure of racism and police brutality. So, fight with us, not against us.”
Brienne said that her family does not want any acts of violence—including rioting, looting, or threatening others— done in their father’s name.
“None of that is what we want—you do not honor our father if you do it, and you are not honoring us in any way,” she said.
“That is something we can take pride in as a community in Winston-Salem,” Sean said. “In so many places, we have seen over the months—so many riots, so much anger—but we have been peaceful.”
Brienne said the family’s decision to call for the public release of the footage was not due to the demands or actions from the Black Lives Matter Winston-Salem chapter or Triad Abolition Project’s #OccupyWSNC movement.
“It wasn’t the press petitions; it wasn’t the demands by protesters—it really came down for us and our discussions and considerations to what served the interest of justice best,” Sean said. “Most importantly, what served the interest of changing things when it comes to how the county works at the detention center. What if there is somebody in there now, whose story is already written? Maybe that story changes because of the decision that we make to release this, to put a little pressure on it, and have them handle things differently. If it can save a life, we are willing to set aside our grief and our emotional stress; we are willing to set aside the feeling that some may have thought that we are not being fair if it means that one person who didn’t have to die lives.”
Brienne, Sean and Kris all agreed that the family would like to see the use of the prone restraint banned.
“Even in this county, he wasn’t the first one to die due to this kind of restraint,” Sean added.
“And with no changes, he won’t be the last,” Brienne said.
Kris said that the 55 protest-related arrests in July show the persistence of people fighting for change in Forsyth County and that the fight needs to be fought.
“I appreciate that people put themselves on the line like that—to possibly be arrested and be charged with something on behalf of fighting for policy change and justice,” Kris said. “Civil disobedience is what has caused change throughout history—no one has ever followed the rules and gotten change. You change policy by putting yourself in a situation that makes the justice system notice you.”
Brienne called the people who were arrested from the #OccupyWSNC group “the most selfless group of individuals” she has met.
“When I asked the group, ‘how many of you had been arrested,’ and 90% of them raised their hands—and the ones who didn’t said, ‘we are next,’ I can’t help but to appreciate that,” she said. “And it was a diverse group—you had Black, white and Hispanic people out there saying, ‘we will do whatever it takes to get these reforms made.’ While, of course, you never want to see someone get arrested for something like that, especially being peaceful in the middle of the street in front of other families, we as a family do appreciate the sacrifice made by others.”
The family said they were satisfied with how Sheriff Bobby Kimbrough and District Attorney Jim O’Neill handled the release of information pertaining to their father’s death to the public, even though it was seven months after his death occurred.
“That was my request,” Sean said. “The reason for that was we didn’t want for there to be a situation for answers to come to the public at the same time they came to the family.”
Additionally, Sean said the family did not want there to be public pressure to cause officials to rush to a conclusion.
“Sheriff Kimbrough was absolutely correct when he said the reason he didn’t go public was to honor our wishes,” he said. “It is not a big cover-up, in terms of they just didn’t want anybody to know. We have been in constant contact and have spoken with the sheriff and D.A. several times—we’ve had back and forth correspondence for months—it wasn’t like all of this just fell out of the sky. That was on our part, what we wanted. We didn’t want there to be a circus before there was a show.”
He said thankfully, unlike so many other cases—such as Georgia’s Ahmaud Arbery and Minnesota’s George Floyd—his father’s death did not have to come out publicly for there to be an investigation and criminal charges.
“Yes, the county messed up, but they are trying to make some effort to do the right thing here,” Sean said. “We appreciate their efforts as long as things stay the way they are: honest, open, and transparent.”
He said the family was also satisfied with the five former detention officers and one nurse being charged with involuntary manslaughter.
“We have seen the video, we have seen what happens,” Sean explained. “The best way I can put it is: It’s like you are driving your car and you look down to change the radio, and the moment you take your eyes off the road, you hit someone and kill them. You didn’t mean to, it wasn’t an intent you formed in your mind, but you did it.”
One of the demands posed by the Triad Abolition Project questions whether there was a conflict of interest with the Neville family’s legal representation by Michael Grace and Christopher Clifton of the local firm Grace, Clifton and Tisdale, as the firm is “one of the two local firms who represent local law enforcement through the Police Benevolent Association.”
Brienne and Sean said that they appreciated the concern but that there was no conflict of interest, and that the family has “the most amazing lawyers.”
“People don’t get to know what happens behind the scenes,” Brienne added. “Chris and Mike have fought for us with sleepless nights for months—since the day our dad died. People are speaking because the media gives them bits and pieces, but if you want the real truth, we appreciate them.”
Sean said he hired Grace and Clifton to represent the Neville family. “I knew who [Grace] was when I hired him. There has never been a day, a moment, in which we have ever felt that he has prioritized his friendship with Sheriff Kimbrough or the firm has prioritized their representation of the [Police] Benevolent Association above this case. Ever.”
Sean said the family and their attorneys had been working diligently behind the scenes to pursue justice for his father, even outside of Forsyth County.
“The S.B. 168 that everyone was protesting about, on the back end, we were also working to communicate with the governor’s office, politicians, to have an impact in trying to make sure that wasn’t something that was going to get past.”
Right before the hearing on July 29, Neville’s family released a video statement on Black Lives Matter Winston-Salem’s demands regarding the death of their father—specifically calling for the release of the video before talking with the family first.
“When we say the words ‘Black Lives Matter,’ we understand that it’s not just a movement, it’s a statement,” said Brienne in the Facebook video. “Black Lives Matter is a fact. With that being said, we have to understand that our father was not just someone to be a part of a movement, but that was a person. And with that in mind, we would just like to state that we do appreciate those that have asked us for our input on their demands. But we cannot, in good conscience, support the Black Lives Matter Winston-Salem chapter due to the fact that, on more than one occasion, they have not asked us or consulted with the family on what we want or need. They have deliberately disobeyed what we’ve asked for in the stance of not asking for the video of our father’s death to be released. That is a choice that needs to be made by us and was made by us to release the video footage. We would like to clarify that in no way, shape, form, or fashion was our stance swayed by their press conference [on July 28], or any of their previous press releases, or protests. We deserve the right as the family to decide when and how that video is released. At the end of the day, we are the ones who have to go home with that grief; we are the ones who have to live with it, not those who are requesting it.”
Brienne Neville also said that her family is owed an apology by the Black Lives Matter Winston-Salem chapter “for the blatant disrespect of our wishes, our needs, and not having any concern for our emotional well-being dealing with this very difficult situation.”
Shortly after that video circulated, Black Lives Matter Winston-Salem issued an apology to Neville’s family via their Facebook page.
John Neville’s family has shown unbelievable courage and strength in dealing with this ordeal, particularly in these extremely difficult times. We apologize for any hurt that our support of the legal petition by several news outlets and publications for the release of this footage may have caused the Neville family or his loved ones. We want to fully impart to them that we meant no harm in any way, and we wish to honor them and the dignity of John Neville.
“I know I’ve really been in the background, but I do also want to extend my thank you to not just the organizers but also the supporters of these protests who are doing it for the right reasons,” said Natasha Martin, John Neville’s eldest daughter, in the Facebook video. “Those who aren’t just doing it, you know, for their own agenda, for their own clout, but they’re actually doing it for the purpose of seeing a change. All we want out of this is a change so that no one else has to live what we have to live with right now. This man was robbed. We were robbed. And justice needs to be served in the form of policy changes, in the form of more training. And at the end of the day, our father can’t be brought back to us, and we understand that. But, there’s nothing else that we could ask for, that our family could ask for other than the support that we have received from people like you, so thank you so much on behalf of me and my family for all of it.”
Two weeks ago, YES! Weekly emailed the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office regarding the demands of the Triad Abolition Project and if any changes would be implemented as a result of John Neville’s death. Forsyth County Sheriff Public Affairs Officer Christina Howell wrote in an email that the detention center’s health care provider, WellPath, would increase the number of nurses present at the jail and that, “Beginning August 1st, 50 Detention Officers (including Special Response Team members) will take special medical training specific for the unique situation of working within the Detention Center.”
YES! Weekly sent a follow-up email on July 31 to ask for more details of the medical training, such as: “What does this training consist of? Who is in charge of orchestrating the training? How long is the training? Is this training periodical?”
Howell wrote back the same day, “It is my understanding that the training will begin in August, but I don’t know that it is being held tomorrow.”
When asked why she had originally reported that the training would take place on Aug. 1, Howell responded via email that she “was given limited details, but the ‘go date’ passed on to me initially was Aug. 1.” She also noted that the medical training was “being coordinated with Forsyth County Emergency Services.”
“At this time, I have no further details except that we are continuing to work with them to efficiently and effectively implement specialized training for Special Response Team members and other Detention Officers.”
Sheriff Kimbrough held a press conference at noon on Aug. 4 regarding the release of the footage of the circumstances leading to John Neville’s death. Sheriff Kimbrough said the footage would be transported to Raleigh at 10 a.m. on Aug. 5 and delivered to the media outlet’s lawyer. He said the video should be released by 10:30 a.m.
“I wanted to take this opportunity to once again, have a conversation, and say how much I appreciate the class in which you have handled this tragedy, as it relates to your father,” Kimbrough said, addressing the Neville family. “As it relates to the video, like many of you all that have seen it, I was saddened by what I saw as well, and I cried as well. I want you to know, as a result of that, there are many changes that have been made as it relates to the passing of your father.”
Kimbrough said these changes include “training, integrative training with the medical providers, policies, and procedures.” (Yet, he did not mention any specifics regarding the training, policy and procedure changes.)
“Your father has changed the way health care will be dispensed at the Forsyth County Detention Center,” Kimbrough said. “As well as how it will be dispersed throughout this region.”
Kimbrough said he would continue to stand with the Neville family through the process, and he apologized again to the family for what happened to their father.
“We have thought very long and hard—every bit of two seconds is what it took for me to think about this, and you don’t have to answer now, with your permission and with your attorney’s permission down the road, whenever you give us the OK, the section which is known as ‘4 South,’ will now be named the ‘John E. Neville Housing Unit,’ based on your permission to do that,” Kimbrough said. “And we are not doing that just because; we are doing that as a reminder to the men and the women that work there of what happened that day. We are doing this as a reminder to let them know that life is paramount and how we do business. Also, as a reminder to the residents that come through there.”
Grace also spoke on behalf of Sean and thanked the sheriff for “acknowledging the truth” that mistakes were made.
“It won’t bring John Neville back, nothing that the sheriff, or I or any of you could ever say, could do that,” Grace said.
Grace said there are more things yet to come from this—including a protest that “Sean and I plan to march with,” he said.
“We think protesting is necessary for these situations. There is a criminal case that, although we didn’t bring, and we don’t decide which way it goes. We plan to make ourselves available to the district attorney and support him in what he has; we think, rightly decided, is his course of action.”
Grace said that they would be pursuing action against Forsyth County and the detention center’s health care provider, WellPath, to see that the family is justly compensated.
“There are a number of chores yet undone, a number of paths that we all have to walk down, but we certainly appreciate the sheriff’s honesty, openness, and willingness to put a little salve, a little balm on this wound for this family; to acknowledge there were mistakes. As the coroner said in his report, this was a man who didn’t have to die.”
Sheriff Kimbrough concluded the press conference by saying that he is grateful to be the Sheriff of Forsyth County, “because I get a chance to be part of the change in the culture of how health is given to our residents.”
“At the end of the day, all we want justice,” Brienne told YES! Weekly in the July 29 interview. “Whether that is through charges or reforms—but reforms would mean more than a charge.”