Lawsuit accuses W.Va. police chief of stopping CPR on gay man
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A small-town police chief was accused in a federal lawsuit Thursday of stopping a would-be rescuer from performing CPR on a gay heart attack victim because he assumed the ailing man had HIV and posed a health risk.
Claude Green, who did not have HIV, died a half hour after his June 21, 2005, heart attack in the southern West Virginia town of Welch. The lawsuit filed on behalf of family members seeks unspecified damages against the town and Chief Bobby Bowman.
"This loss ... was tragically senseless," said Rose Saxe, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union, which filed the lawsuit. "He was simply a gay man in Welch, West Virginia. And because of that we can only assume that Chief Bowman assumed he had HIV and it was unsafe to even touch him."
Bowman called the allegations "a bold-face lie." He said he called an ambulance and that the 43-year-old Green was taken to a nearby hospital in "no more than nine minutes."
"No one refused him CPR as his sister and mom are saying," the chief said. "They can do what they want but if they're saying I refused him CPR that is no way true."
The lawsuit accuses Bowman of stopping Green's friend, Billy Snead, from performing CPR after Green collapsed while driving through the town of about 2,400. Snead, who was a passenger in Green's truck, was able to gain control of the vehicle and immediately start chest compressions. The lawsuit said the chief physically stopped the CPR because he knew Green was gay and assumed he was HIV positive.
When asked if he knew if Green was gay, Bowman would not answer and referred questions to assistant McDowell County Prosecuting Attorney Danny Barie, who also represents the City of Welch.
Barie said Thursday he had received a copy of the complaint but could not comment because he had yet to review it and discuss the allegations with Bowman.
Welch Mayor Martha Moore also said she only recently learned of Green's death and could not comment.
Saxe said Bowman's actions "substantially contributed to Claude's death" and violated the Americans with Disabilities Act, equal protection laws and due process rights.
"It just don't seem real. I can't accept it," mother Helen Green said through tears. "I don't think I'll ever accept it and the circumstances of the way he died."
Green's sister, Mary Mullins, said the family wanted to file the lawsuit to prevent similar situations from happening again.
"Life is so precious," Mullins said. "On that day there was so little respect shown for his life. They stripped him of his dignity and that's something I think about every day."