The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a federal discrimination lawsuit on behalf of the family of a West Virginia man who died of a heart attack after the police chief allegedly prevented his friend from performing CPR because he falsely assumed the man was HIV positive.
Claude Green, 43, who was gay, died last year. The ACLU filed the lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia on behalf of his family against the City of Welch and Robert K. Bowman, Welch’s Chief of Police.
The lawsuit charges that Mr Bowman discriminated against Green by preventing others from providing life-saving medical care to Green because of his sexual orientation and/or perceived HIV status. They also charge that Bowman violated the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) by discriminating against someone he perceived to be HIV positive.
Helen Green, the deceased’s mother said: I’m heartbroken that I have lost my son over such ignorance and bigotry, I can’t understand how someone who is supposed to protect the people of Welch could physically block another human from saving my son’s life.”
“It’s always difficult for a mother to lose a child, but to have lost my son so needlessly will be with me for the rest of my life.”
“Bowman’s actions were a frightening abuse of power,” said Rose Saxe, a staff attorney with the ACLU’s AIDS Project. “It’s hard to say what was more shameful: that Chief Bowman assumed Claude Green was HIV positive solely because he was gay, or that Bowman was so ignorant about HIV that he felt you couldn’t safely perform CPR on an HIV positive person.”
According to the ACLU lawsuit, Green suffered a heart attack while driving with a friend last summer. The friend, Billy Snead, was performing CPR by the side of the road when Bowman arrived and told Mr Snead to stop because Green was HIV positive. When he didn’t stop the CPR, Mr Bowman allegedly grabbed him by the shoulders and physically barred him from continuing at a critical point.
They say the officer prevented anyone else from aiding Green until EMS workers arrived approximately 10 minutes later. Another claim is that while they were putting Green in the ambulance, Mr Bowman informed EMS workers that Green was HIV positive. Although the EMS workers ignored the warnings and performed CPR on Green, he passed away shortly after arriving at the hospital. He did not have HIV.
“The job of the police is to protect and serve,” said Andrew Schneider, Executive Director of the ACLU of West Virginia, “This lawsuit sends a message to public officials that prejudice and ignorance about HIV are not only wrong, but can have tragic consequences. We are filing this lawsuit to prevent further tragedies.”
Police Chief Bobby Bowman called the allegations “a baldface lie.” He told the Associated Press that he called an ambulance and that Green was taken to the hospital in “no more than nine minutes.”
“No one refused him CPR as his sister and mum are saying. They can do what they want, but if they’re saying I refused him CPR, that is no way true.”