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SBI investigating after man died in Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office custody seven months ago. Officials have released little information about John Neville's death

An inmate at the Forsyth County Jail died on Dec. 4, 2019, four days after being arrested, and nearly seven months later the Sheriff’s Office has released limited information on the man’s death.

The man, 56-year-old John Neville, had a warrant for his arrest in Guilford County on a charge of assaulting a female. Kernersville police officers arrested him Dec. 1 during a traffic stop, no force was used and Neville was cooperative, according to Officer Blake Jones, a spokesman for the department. The arresting officer took Neville to the Forsyth County Jail where he was booked into custody.

Since Neville’s death on Dec. 4, the N.C. State Bureau of Investigation has been exploring the circumstances around his death, and has reviewed body camera footage and jail surveillance footage of the incidents leading up to Neville’s death, according to multiple sources familiar with the investigation.

In a statement provided to the Winston-Salem Journal, 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 had been referred to a medical examiner.

Forsyth County Sheriff Bobby Kimbrough told the Journal in a phone interview Friday he couldn’t comment on the investigation or what led to Neville’s death, citing the ongoing investigation.

Representing the family is Chris Clifton, a prominent Triad criminal defense lawyer. When reached for comment about the investigation into Neville’s death, Clifton offered the following statement: “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.”

When referencing the death certificate, Clifton clarified he was talking about the cause of death not yet being listed.

The sheriff’s office did not notify the public at the time of his death, and Kimbrough acknowledged that, saying he didn’t do so because Neville’s family, and the family’s legal counsel, asked the sheriff’s office not to do so.

When asked if video of the events leading up to Neville’s “medical emergency” existed, Kimbrough declined comment.

When asked about why an SBI investigation was initiated 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 Medical Examiner has not yet issued a report with a determination of the cause of death, and therefore the SBI investigation has not formally concluded,” the sheriff’s office statement said. “The SBI investigation is classified as a ‘death in-custody, prisoner or inmate’ investigation although Mr. Neville was technically not in custody when he passed away at the hospital.”

After he went to the hospital, Neville was released on an unsecured bond, meaning he was no longer in the jail’s custody.

When asked whether any sheriff’s office employees have been placed on administrative leave or fired as a result of Neville’s death, Kimbrough declined comment. In a statement, Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office Public Affairs Officer Christina Howell said no personnel actions were taken in relation to Neville’s death.

Kimbrough said he thinks the SBI will conclude its investigation in 10 days or fewer.

Neville’s death has not been determined to be criminal in nature, and some records surrounding his death are public under North Carolina law — for now. The General Assembly passed a bill in the early morning hours Friday that would restrict those records.

The bill would make private “all information and records provided by a city, county, or other public entity to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, or its agents, concerning a death investigation...”

The bill passed the General Assembly with overwhelmingly bipartisan support.


Z-no-digital
Drive-in theater at Marketplace Mall is drawing crowds. Second set of movies shown this weekend.

The Marketplace Drive-In Cinema had a successful opening weekend last Friday and Saturday, according to owner Daniel Kleeberg, and it is getting ready for its second weekend of showing movies.

“I thought it went great,” Kleeberg said. “I thought everybody was happy. Everybody got along. It went smoothly.”

The weather was pleasant on both June 19, when the drive-in screened “Smokey and the Bandit,” and June 20, when it showed “The Muppet Movie.”

The available spaces on both nights sold out, Kleeberg said, with about 120 vehicles in the parking lot each night. This weekend, the drive-in may expand to 150 to 160 spaces. Depending on the status of North Carolina’s social-distancing requirements, it may eventually grow to more than 200 spaces, but for now Kleeberg said he is focused on working out the kinks and making sure things run smoothly.

“We didn’t want to bite off more than we could chew,” he said. “We hope to be up to full speed by the July 4th weekend. It’s better to keep a few people happy.”

One problem that popped up a few times, he said, happened when some patrons bought spaces for cars that were less tall than the ones they came in. Since the line of sight for cars behind them depended on the height of the cars, the parking lot was laid out with shorter vehicles toward the front rows, and bringing in a taller vehicle than permitted in that space partially blocked the view of patrons behind them. A few moviegoers were asked to move to a more height-appropriate part of the parking lot.

“Everybody was very nice about it,” Kleeberg said. Going forward, he said, more care will be taken in measuring the height of vehicles as they enter and having them use a different spot, if need be.

There were also a few cases last weekend where drivers didn’t now how to turn off the automatic daytime running lights on their cars, which would be distracting for other viewers. That was easily solved by using black trash bags and Scotch tape to cover the lights, Kleeberg said.

He said he was also pleased with how concession sales went, with patrons social distancing in the lobby of the movie theater to buy popcorn, candy and bottled drinks.

There were several vendors in the parking lot, selling cream puffs, cake pops and other desserts, as well as a food truck selling muscadine and Cheerwine slush drinks. Food trucks and vendors will vary from week to week, Kleeberg said.

Last night, the theater showed the Disney movie “Zootopia.” Tonight, in conjunction with Ticketmaster, it will have two screenings of a Garth Brooks concert film, one at 9 p.m. and the other just before midnight, which will be the first time the new theater has to coordinate multiple showtimes. On Sunday, the theater will carry the recent film “The Greatest Showman.”

Tickets for tonight’s Garth Brooks event, which are being sold through Ticketmaster, are $100 for each carload of up to six people. Since the Brooks concert is first-come, first-served, the gates will open at 5 p.m. for the sold-out 9 p.m. showing. At last word, tickets might still be available for the second showing, which will start at 11:59 p.m.

Tickets for most other screenings are currently $20 a carload, though it may be a few dollars more for two double-feature screenings planned in July. When new releases become available later this summer, ticket prices will change to a per-person price rather than a carload price, but that amount has not been set, Kleeberg said. Also, several screenings of the new horror movie “Relic,” on July 6-8, will be $10 a carload. Gates will open at 7 p.m. for most movies, with an 8:30 p.m. cutoff for arrivals. Films will start shortly after dusk when it is dark enough for the image to be seen clearly.

Tickets for all currently scheduled movies are on sale at https://mpcws drivein.simpletix.com, and more information can be found at the theater’s Facebook page. Upcoming movies include the original “Ghostbusters,” “E.T. The Extraterrestrial,” “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” “Jurassic Park,” the 1969 “True Grit,” “Jaws,” “Marvel’s Black Panther,” “The Empire Strikes Back” and “Inside Out.”


Business
N.C. General Assembly OK gym-reopening bill that likely will be vetoed. Will enough Democrats stick with governor to block override?

The ability of fitness centers, gyms and health clubs to reopen statewide in early July could come down to how much North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper wants to test the veto support of Democratic state legislators.

House Bill 806 cleared the N.C. General Assembly in Raleigh with significant bipartisan support — 35-11 late Thursday in the Senate and 75-31 early Friday in the House.

HB806 would take effect immediately if it becomes law and would expire when Cooper’s Executive Order No. 141, which implemented the start of Phase Two of the state’s COVID-19 reopening plan, ends.

At full attendance, there needs to be at least 72 votes in the House and at least 30 votes in the Senate to override a governor’s veto. The current breakdown is 65-55 Republican in the House and 29-21 Republican in the Senate.

Cooper has 10 days to sign the bill into law, veto it or let it become law without his signature.

Cooper spokesman Ford Porter said Friday that the governor “will review the legislation before announcing action.”

“I wouldn’t count on Gov. Cooper going along with any bill that appears to contradict his pronouncements on reopening the economy, even if the measure had broad bipartisan support,” said Mitch Kokai, senior policy analyst the John Locke Foundation, a conservative-leaning research group based in Raleigh.

Another potential pandemic reopening bill, HB795, would have affected amusement parks, arcades, fairs, carnivals and public playground.

The Senate approved that bill 33-14 vote, with five Democrat voting in favor.

However, the House voted 101-4 to not concur with the Senate changes out of concerns that the bill’s language dealing with arcades and gaming might create a loophole for video-sweepstakes business to reopen.

As a result, legislature analysts say it is highly unlikely that HB795 will receive additional action this year.

Other bills

Currently, two more economic-reopening bills — HB258 (amusement parks, arcades) and HB686 (Fourth of July events) are on Cooper’s desk, having cleared the legislature Tuesday.

Senate Bill 105, which involves Council of State oversight over governor’s executive orders, cleared the legislature early Friday as well.

Those three bills are likely to end up being vetoed, as were HB536 (private bars and clubs) and HB594 (private bars and clubs, and fitness centers) because they contain language that gives the Council of State oversight of a governor’s executive orders.

The General Assembly would be able to conduct a veto override vote when it next meets, currently scheduled for the week of July 6.

Cooper vetoed 14 bills during the 2019 legislative session with three unsuccessful override attempts.

During the 2020 session, Cooper has vetoed two bills with one unsuccessful override attempt so far. The veto override attempt on HB595 failed Wednesday by a 66-53 vote with just one Democrat in support.

The 10-member Council of State comprises the state’s top elected officials, currently six Republicans and four Democrats.

Each GOP council member has expressed their desire to fully reopen the state’s economy sooner than Cooper and Dr. Mandy Cohen, the N.C. secretary of health, have wanted.

As for SB105, the House voted 64-49 along partisan lines Thursday in favor. There were six Democrats and one Republican who did not vote. The state Senate voted 26-17 early Friday. The vote count was not available.

The sponsors of SB105 opted to put certain Council of State requirements into its own bill.

For example, the governor would have just 48 hours to ask the council for its concurrence on a potential executive order before it could be issued. The governor would need the majority of council members to approve proceeding with the order.

Several Democratic legislators have called the Council of State concurrence requirement as “a poison pill,” while Cooper said the requirement would delay unnecessarily his administration’s ability to respond to a public-health emergency.

“The lesson from the past year is that if backers of a bill are unable to secure a veto-proof majority for a bill on initial passage, they are highly unlikely to secure a veto-proof majority on a veto override of that bill later on,” said John Dinan, a Wake Forest political science professor who is a national expert on state legislatures.

The John Locke Foundation’s Kokai said Cooper and the Democratic Party establishment “have been effective for the past two years in convincing legislative Democrats not to cross Cooper on a veto override. If Cooper rejects a bill, expect many legislative Democrats to follow suit.”

“That will hold true unless those Democrats feel immense pressure from their constituents to break with the governor,” he said. “Bills that passed with less than veto-proof majorities are essentially dead in the water.”

Phase Two extended

Under Phase Two of Cooper’s three-part plan to reopen the state’s economy, which began May 22, he chose to keep closed several businesses that had been projected to reopen with similar 50% capacity limits that restaurants and personal-care services must observe.

Those businesses include bars, nightclubs, public playgrounds, gyms and fitness centers, movie theaters, bowling alleys, bingo parlors, and museums.

On Wednesday, Cooper extended the Phase Two restrictions in what he called a pause until July 17.

Cohen, the state’s health secretary, has recommended keeping fitness facilities closed until Phase Three. She has said the facilities carry higher risk for spread of the virus in part because individuals working out are breathing harder and respiratory droplets can be discharged at greater distances.

Cohen could not be reached for comment Friday about the passage of HB806.

Gyms await word

The YMCA of Northwest North Carolina said in a statement Friday that “as a general practice, the YMCA will not comment on anything political in nature.”

“Since we closed our branches on March 16, (we) have created an operational plan that puts the safety of our members and staff at the forefront,” the statement said. “We will only operate our indoor facilities in a safe, responsible manner when we are allowed to do so.”

Dixon Douglas, the owner of the CycleBar studio in downtown Winston-Salem, said he understands and respects the Cooper administration’s public-health stance.

As Douglas has awaited permission to reopen, “I am accountable, as the studio owner, to do everything in my power to provide a safe place to ride. At this time, I am confident I have done that.”

He noted several hygiene improvement steps he has taken in the past three months, including air purification, fewer touch points, a sensored water dispenser and a studio fogger to kill all virus particles.

“Until we get word to reopen, we are still carrying out our studio mission of building community virtually and on our open air patio,” Douglas said.

“We are ready.”


Z-no-digital
Forsyth reports 73 new COVID-19 cases, 2 deaths on same day N.C. reports over 1,600 cases

Gov. Roy Cooper’s executive order requiring most state residents to wear masks or some type of face covering in public took effect at 5 p.m. Friday amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The mandate’s start began on the same day the Forsyth County Department of Public Health reported 73 new COVID-19 cases and two virus-related deaths, the largest local increase in cases this week.

No information about either person who died was made available Friday, as has been the case for the other two deaths announced on Tuesday and Wednesday. County Public Health Director Joshua Swift did not provide any information about the earlier deaths when asked Thursday.

In Winston-Salem on Friday, the majority of the customers inside the Food Lion store on New Walkertown Road wore masks, but some shoppers didn’t, said Holly Tissue of Walkertown, a store manager.

Milton Norfleet of Winston-Salem said that wearing masks is good idea.

“I’ve been wearing a mask because people have COVID-19, and some people have died,” Norfleet said as he walked to his vehicle in the supermarket’s parking lot.

City resident Barry Moody said he didn’t wear a mask inside the grocery store, but he had one inside his SUV.

“But I should have,” Moody said about wearing a mask. “I went in there to cash a check real quick.”

At Hanes Park, Tina Brown of Winston-Salem had completed a walk without wearing a mask. Brown said she was complying with Cooper’s order that allows people who are exercising to forego wearing masks.

“I don’t understand any of this,” Brown said. “When the virus first hit in mid-March, why wasn’t everyone required to wear masks? The virus is still going around.”

Cooper’s order requires people to wear face coverings in public when it’s not possible to maintain physical distance. The order also mandates face coverings for employees of businesses including retailers and restaurants, as well as state executive branch employees.

Violations of Cooper’s executive orders are generally punishable as a misdemeanor, but Wednesday’s order directs law enforcement to issue citations to businesses or organizations that fail to enforce mask requirements, not individuals.

The order says that people who refuse to wear a mask and won’t leave a business can be penalized under trespassing laws. The mask order exempts those with certain health conditions, young children and people strenuously exercising, among other situations.

Thirty-three people have died in Forsyth County because of the virus. There have been at least 1,303 virus-related deaths across North Carolina.

More than 1,600 new cases were reported in the state Friday, bringing the total number of cases to 58,818, according to N.C. Department of Health and Human Services data.

At least 2,788 people in Forsyth County have tested positive for the virus since the first cases were discovered in early March. At least 1,790 people have recovered from the virus, and 965 people have active cases.

According to the most recently available data, the majority of cases in Forsyth County, about 65%, are among Latinos.

The number of people hospitalized in North Carolina remained essentially unchanged from the day before, with 892 people being treated for the virus in North Carolina hospitals, according to N.C. DHHS.