Police Chief Accused of Denying Gay Man CPR

A West Virginia police chief is accused of denying a man CPR because he was gay.

Billy Snead was furiously trying to save the life of a friend having a heart attack on a West Virginia roadside in June when the police chief arrived. The chief, Mr. Snead recalled yesterday, ordered him to stop. The chief, Robert K. Bowman of the small town of Welch, told Mr. Snead that his friend, red-faced and gasping for breath, had the virus that causes AIDS, according to a lawsuit filed yesterday. Chief Bowman grabbed Mr. Snead’s shoulder, the suit says, pulling him away from his friend, Claude Green Jr.

Mr. Snead resisted, saying he was having success. Trained in cardiopulmonary resuscitation, Mr. Snead tried to continue pressing and then pounding on Mr. Green’s chest. “Every time I’d do it, he’d take a breath,” Mr. Snead said of Mr. Green yesterday. But the chief was adamant, Mr. Snead said. “He just come over and told me to get off of him,” Mr. Snead said.

Mr. Green, who was 43, died at Welch Community Hospital less than an hour later. Chief Bowman, the suit said, did nothing to help Mr. Green but did tell ambulance workers and hospital personnel that Mr. Green was positive for H.I.V. As it happened, the suit says, that was false. Mr. Green was gay, but he did not have the virus, according to the suit, filed in federal court in Bluefield, W.Va.

In the suit, Mr. Green’s estate, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, accused Chief Bowman and the town of Welch of violating Mr. Green’s civil rights and causing his death. The Associated Press quoted Chief Bowman as calling the accusations lies. He said that he called an ambulance and that Mr. Green was taken to the hospital in “no more than nine minutes.” “No one refused him CPR as his sister and mom are saying,” The A.P. quoted the chief as saying. “They can do what they want, but if they’re saying I refused him CPR, that is no way true.”

Allison Barker adds for the AP:

Snead said in an interview that he didn’t realize at first it was Bowman giving the order and continued working on his friend. Bowman repeated his command to get away, saying that Green was HIV positive, then grabbed Snead by the shoulders and told him to sit on the curb, Snead said. He was a police officer so I got out the way. I assumed he would help. I didn’t want to be a hindrance,” Snead said. “He also told the ambulance drivers that he was HIV positive and to be careful.”

[…]

Rose Saxe, a lawyer with the ACLU’s AIDS Project, said Bowman’s alleged actions contributed to Green’s death and violated the Americans with Disabilities Act, equal protection laws and due process rights. Saxe said Green’s death was “tragically senseless” because he did not have the AIDS virus, but added that he should have received lifesaving care even if he was HIV-positive. “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,” Saxe said.

Even if the man were HIV positive, CPR can be performed with a mouth guard, which any police officer should have in his patrol car. If Snead’s account is anything close to true, this is a sad case, indeed.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. cirby says:

    If Snead’s account is anything close to true, this is a sad case, indeed.

    If his account is anything close to true, this is murder, or at least manslaughter (interfering with a life-saving effort).