ACLU Sues West Virginia Police Chief Who Blocked Life-Saving Measures for Gay Heart Attack Victim Assumed to Be HIV Positive
CHARLESTON, WV – The American Civil Liberties Union today filed a federal discrimination lawsuit on behalf of the surviving family members of a Welch man who died of a heart attack after the police chief physically prevented his friend from performing CPR. The police chief blocked the CPR because he falsely assumed that the man, who was gay, was HIV positive and therefore a health risk.
“I’m heartbroken that I have lost my son over such ignorance and bigotry,” said Helen Green, mother of Claude Green, Jr., who died at the age of 43. “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.”
The ACLU filed the lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia on behalf of the surviving family members of Claude Green, Jr. against the City of Welch and Robert K. Bowman, Welch’s Chief of Police. The lawsuit charges that 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. The lawsuit also charges that Bowman violated the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) by discriminating against someone he perceived to be HIV positive.
“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 Snead to stop because Green was HIV positive. When Snead didn’t stop the CPR, Bowman grabbed Snead by the shoulders and physically barred Snead from continuing CPR at a critical point in Green’s resuscitation. Snead, who had not realized at first that Bowman was a police officer, obeyed his commands.
While Green fought to stay alive, Bowman prevented anyone else from aiding Green until EMS workers arrived approximately 10 minutes later. While they were putting Green in the ambulance, Bowman informed EMS workers that Green was HIV positive. Although the EMS workers ignored Bowman’s 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.”
Green is survived by his mother, a 19-year-old son, three sisters, and a brother. All of the family members were present at a press conference in Charleston announcing the filing of the lawsuit.
“We have brought this lawsuit to stop Police Chief Bowman from hurting more people,” said Green’s sister Anita Tickle, a practicing nurse. “I have spent my life helping sick people, including people with HIV, and I cannot understand how Bowman could possibly justify his actions. We’ve known for two decades that HIV is not easily transmitted and that it is safe to perform CPR on someone with the disease. That’s something a police chief ought to know too.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control, there have been no documented instances of HIV transmission through CPR.
A copy of the complaint and additional press materials are available at www.aclu.org/caseprofiles