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Suit blames deputy for reverend’s death

A sheriff deputy’s decision to stop a Good Samaritan from performing CPR on a man suffering from a heart attack ultimately caused his death, according to a $4 million wrongful death lawsuit filed Tuesday in Harford County Circuit Court.

Attorney David Ellin (Maximilian Franz/The Daily Record)

The lawsuit was filed by the family of Rev. Bob Tompkins, 57, of Belcamp, who suffered a heart attack at home in November. Named in the lawsuit are the Harford County Sheriff’s Department and Deputy First Class Ronnell Webb, who was first on the scene after a 911 call was placed.

Tompkins, a married Baptist minister with one daughter, reportedly did not have a history of heart problems prior to the Nov. 11, 2011, heart attack.

According to the lawsuit, Tompkins was on his front lawn when he suffered a heart attack. Michael Johnson, a neighbor, saw Tompkins lying face down on the ground and rushed over to administer CPR and call 911. The family claims the CPR was effective and Tompkins started breathing and was regaining color.

The family said Webb ordered Johnson to stop performing CPR until paramedics arrived. According to court documents, six minutes passed from the cessation of CPR and the paramedics’ arrival.

Tompkins was pronounced dead at Upper Chesapeake Medical Center.

Attorney David Ellin, who is representing the Tompkins, said an expert brought in to review the facts of the case said Tompkins would have survived if the neighbor had continued CPR until paramedics arrived. Even more egregious, Ellin said, was the fact that Webb himself — who should have had some form of lifesaving training — did not take over CPR on Tompkins.

“Not only did he stop Mr. Johnson from performing CPR, which was working, but he didn’t even attempt CPR himself,” Ellin said. “He just sat there for six minutes without anyone touching him and he died right in front of him.”

Harford County Sheriff’s Department Public Information Officer Monica A. Worrell said the department’s policy was to not comment on pending litigation. She did confirm that Webb, a three-year veteran of the force, was on active duty and is assigned to the patrol division.

The lawsuit counts include wrongful death and negligence in how Webb handled the call. The family is seeking $2 million in compensatory and $2 million in punitive damages.

Attorney Domenic R. Iamele, who is not affiliated with the Fisher lawsuit but has worked on a number of police-involved lawsuits, said the standard that would apply at trial is one of “deliberate indifference.”

“The first responder can’t be deliberately indifferent to the needs of a citizen and if this rises to that level than it is actionable,” Iamele said.

“If someone is in extremis and CPR seems to be working, there would not be a reason to stop unless the deputy was going to be taking over,” he added. “The police officer simply can’t walk away from a medical emergency.”