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, 43, died June 21 after being stricken yards from City Hall in Welch, a community of about 2,400.
The American Civil Liberties Union sued on behalf of his mother.
Police Chief Bobby Bowman called the allegations “a boldface lie.” He said 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 mom are saying. They can do what they want, but if they’re saying I refused him CPR, that is no way true,” Bowman said.
The lawsuit accuses Bowman of pulling off Green’s friend Billy Snead as Snead was performing chest compressions on the man. Snead was a passenger in Green’s pickup truck when Green collapsed; Snead had managed to pull over the vehicle.
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.”
Green was pronounced dead at the hospital after about 30 minutes of attempts to revive him.
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.
When asked if he knew if Green was gay, Bowman would not answer and referred questions to McDowell County Assistant 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 not reviewed it or discussed it with Bowman.