News media coalition wins appeal over records of death of Black man in NC jail


The N.C. Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday that the Forsyth County district attorney had no authority to have sealed the records of how a Black man died in the Forsyth County jail. Reporters from The News & Observer filed public records requests in 2020 with the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, after Forsyth County authorities had withheld from public knowledge that 56-year-old John Neville died from injuries sustained at the jail. Forsyth County District Attorney Jim O’Neill learned in January 2021 that DHHS was prepared to give those records, including the State Bureau of Investigation’s file on Neville’s death, to The N&O. He went to Forsyth County Superior Court Judge David Hall to have the records sealed.

Mike Tadych, an attorney for a coalition of media outlets including The N&O, argued that O’Neill lacked the authority and jurisdiction to have the records sealed and failed to notify the reporters, the newspapers and their attorneys before doing so.

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