Prison guard cannot be fired for failing to perform CPR on inmate who hanged himself, Pennsylvania court finds


A Pennsylvania county cannot fire a prison officer who has not performed CPR on an inmate who hanged himself in his cell, but must instead obey an adjudicator’s decision to simply suspend the guard, ruled Tuesday a state appeals court.

The fact that Allegheny County Prison Officer Andrew Ruffner believed the prisoner was already dead when he shot him played a role in the adjudicator’s decision which was supported by a panel of the Commonwealth court.

The state court intervened in the case after the Independent Union of Allegheny County Jail Employees appealed a county judge’s overturn of the arbitration decision. County officials fired Ruffner after the May 2016 hanging incident on the grounds that he violated county policies designed to thwart inmate suicides.

Ruffner’s case is somewhat unusual in that he wasn’t the only one who believed the prisoner was dead. The prison’s deputy director of nursing, who arrived moments after being summoned by Ruffner, also believed the inmate was dead, Judge Christine Fizzano Cannon noted in the state court opinion.

The inmate was actually resuscitated in the prison infirmary but died in hospital a few days later.

The arbitrator concluded that Ruffner’s failure to perform CPR was an “error in judgment” which must be viewed in light of the fact that a medical professional – the Assistant Director of Nursing – also believed that the inmate was beyond help.

So the arbitrator overturned Ruffner’s dismissal and replaced it with a three-day suspension.

In keeping with that call, Cannon cited Ruffner’s testimony regarding the incident. Ruffner said that after cutting the inmate he noticed that “his eyes were out of his head, his chest was dilated, and his stomach seemed to contain nothing. I thought he was dead when I shot him.

I hit him in his arm trying to get a response from him, but it was eyes open staring at the ceiling, no breathing, nothing.

“Ruffner did not repeatedly and knowingly violate public order,” Cannon found. “His actions in not initiating CPR, although ultimately incorrect with regard to Allegheny County Jail policy, can be easily understood when Ruffner’s credited belief that the inmate was deceased is associated with the presence of ‘a more qualified medical professional at the scene whose arrival believed Ruffner was imminent. “

“An unpaid three-day suspension for negligent error in judgment in the particular circumstances of this case does not in any way negate the county’s ability to enforce public policy to protect prisoners from suicide,” he said. she concludes.

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