Tennessee FD Accused Of Refusing to Start CPR on African American

A volunteer fire department in Tennessee is facing a federal suit that alleges that a deputy chief refused to initiate CPR on a dying woman due to her race.

The Algood Fire Department has been sued by Shun Mullins, the son of Dorothy Mullins who suffered a heart attack on May 1, 2013. The first firefighter to arrive on scene, Deputy Chief Lloyd Norris, allegedly failed to start CPR and then instructed a firefighter-member of his own family to falsify the incident report to indicate that he had.

The 21 page, 117 paragraph, eight-count federal court complaint alleges race discrimination, several 1983-based actions, negligent hiring and retention, intentional infliction of severe emotional distress, and negligent infliction of severe emotional distress. It names Chief Norris, his relative Cynthia Chaffin, the Algood Fire Department, the City of Algood, Algood City Administrator Keith Morrison, Algood Mayor Terry Foutch, and Putnam County EMS.

The facts are rather peculiar, so let’s look at how the complaint explains what occurred (and I quote from various portions of the complaint):

  • On or about May 1, 2013, Dorothy Mullins exclaimed to her son, Shun Mullins, that she thought she was having a heart attack. She then collapsed in the floor.
  • Shun Mullins frantically called 911 for the first time. …
  • Shun Mullins called 911 a second time. During this call, he requested instructions on how to begin CPR. During this phone call, the Defendant, First Responder Lloyd Norris arrived at Mr. Mullins’ home. Mr. Norris was acting under color of law when he arrived at the Mullins’ home.
  • Mr. Norris slowly exited his vehicle despite Plaintiff’s insistence that he hurry into the house to assist Ms. Mullins. Mr. Norris placed gloves on his hands after exiting his vehicle and did not act with the level of urgency that the situation required.
  • Plaintiff frantically insisted that Mr. Norris hurry and assist his mother. Mr.Norris continued to casually walk towards Mr. Mullins’ mother and instructed the Plaintiff to “calm down.”
  • Mr. Norris did not take any type of equipment or his equipment bag with him when he exited his vehicle. Plaintiff was distressed by Mr. Norris’ lack of urgency and continued urging Mr. Norris to move more quickly. Mr. Norris, however, merely walked from his vehicle to the Mullins’ home.
  • Upon entering the Mullins’ home, Plaintiff watched as Mr. Norris bent down towards Ms. Mullins and placed two fingers on her neck.
  • Plaintiff watched in utter disbelief as Mr. Norris just stood over Ms. Mullins and did nothing to assist her.
  • Mr. Norris did not provide rescue breaths to Ms. Mullins.
  • Mr. Norris did not perform chest compressions on Ms. Mullins.
  • Mr. Norris did not do anything to attempt to resuscitate Ms. Mullins or to provide her with any type of medical assistance.
  • Mr. Norris left Ms. Mullins on the floor, helpless, and in need of assistance until Putnam County EMS arrived several minutes later.
  • A [police officer] at the Mullins’ home on May 1, 2013 observed a black male crying in front of the house. The officer asked Lloyd Norris what was wrong with the black male. Lloyd Norris responded by using the most offensive racial slur he could have used. Lloyd Norris responded by saying, among other things, “that N%G$R is crazy.” This black male was Plaintiff’s nephew.
  • Lloyd Norris refused to deploy appropriate resuscitative measures to aid Ms. Mullins because she was African American. His failure to deploy any resuscitative measures including but not limited to chest compressions caused Mr. Mullins severe mental anguish as he was forced to watch his mother in distress without any effort being made to save her. Subsequently, in the front yad of the Mullins’ home, Lloyd Norris referred to Plaintiff’s nephew as a “N%G$R”.
  • The municipal Defendants knew or reasonably should have known of Lloyd Norris’ pattern or practice of racial discrimination. Despite knowing of Lloyd Norris’ racial animus, the municipal Defendants failed to stop these practices by permitting him to work for the City for several years. The municipal Defendants tolerated and acquiesced in Lloyd Norris’ behavior, and this claim is therefore also asserted against the municipal Defendants.
  • Lloyd Norris’ refusal to deploy appropriate resuscitative measures to aid Ms. Mullins was because Shun Mullins is African American.
  • Lloyd Norris’ racial discrimination against both Dorothy and Shun Mullins caused Mr. Mullins severe emotional distress and suffering.

Remember – these are the allegations of the Plaintiff and have not been proven.

According to the complaint, Chief Norris has resigned. The Herald-Citizen is reporting that Cynthia Chaffin agreed to accept a reprimand from state health officials for her role in the incident. She agreed to complete a 3 hour on-line ethics class and will be on probation until the course is completed.

Here is a copy of the complaint: Mullins v Norris

More in the story.

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.

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