East Ridge paramedic seeks to rebuild life after patient assault charges dropped

A former East Ridge paramedic is seeking to clear his name after a Hamilton County Criminal Court judge dismissed assault charges against him last week.

James Robert Bennett was a paramedic for CHI Memorial Hospital on June 13, 2020, when East Ridge Police said they saw him assault a man who was overdosing on opioids.

Hamilton County Criminal Court Judge Tom Greenholtz on Tuesday approved a decision by Hamilton County District Attorney Raven Austin to dismiss charges against Bennett because there was insufficient evidence to prosecute the case. successfully, according to Bruce Garner, spokesman for the district attorney’s office.

Now Bennett wants to undo the damage done to his reputation and career, according to his attorney, McCracken Poston, who spoke to the Chattanooga Times Free Press last week.

“It cost him his career, he had to use all his savings for day-to-day expenses and lawyers,” Poston said.

Poston added that Bennett’s wife, who was a stay-at-home mom homeschooling their four children, ages 9, 12, 14 and 16, had to start working because Bennett couldn’t find a job.

“Because of the pending criminal case, no one would touch him,” Poston said. “And frankly, that’s going to be a problem.”

Bennett was responding to an overdose call on the 3500 block of Connelly Lane in East Ridge – the second time in a month he had been called from the same address – when the incident occurred, Poston said.

Bennett arrived shortly before midnight to provide medical attention to a man who was found unconscious, according to an East Ridge Police Department affidavit. Officers at the scene had reported observing that the man was unresponsive to “external stimuli” and was out of breath.

Officers reported finding empty naloxone packets lying on the bed, along with a used syringe. Naloxone is an antidote used to revive people suffering from an opioid overdose. Officers confirmed that the man’s wife administered 8 milligrams to the patient. Officers treated the man and continued to monitor him until medical help arrived, according to the affidavit.

Police said when Bennett arrived, he waved the two officers present out of the room.

After they left, officers reported seeing Bennett kick the man in the back with his right foot. He “then knelt down beside him and punched him with a clenched fist in the chest,” the affidavit states.

“This assault was seen by East Ridge Police and was partially captured by a police-worn camera,” the affidavit reads.

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Poston disputes the officers’ comments that Bennett punched the man, saying his client’s greatest offense was “chasing them out of the room”, adding that the officers were not in the room to witness the attack. event, as the affidavit says.

“He pushed it with his shoe, quickly, a few times,” Poston said.

Bennett said the method he used, referred to by officers as assault, is called pain stimulation.

Pain stimulus is a technique used by healthcare professionals to assess a patient’s neurological responses, to assess brain function, and to check if a patient is in a coma, according to a research paper by Judith Lower, former nurse-manager of the neurological and neurovascular intensive care unit. intensive care unit at Johns Hopkins University Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland. Medical professionals can rub a patient’s chest or pinch a patient’s fingertip, or even press a pencil against a patient’s fingernail to evoke a response.

“I think the officer misinterpreted the sternal rub with a strike,” Poston said. “A chest rub can be confused.”

Poston added that following this incident, medical professionals are now wondering if responders can use a foot to quickly rub a part of a person’s body to gauge their response.

However, hitting a person is not standard practice for the Tennessee Department of Health, according to Bill Christian, the department’s associate director of communications and media.

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“The approved pain stimuli that are taught in Tennessee are chest rub, to assess the response of a lethargic or unresponsive patient,” Christian said in an email.

When asked if different methods of pain stimulation were in place at the height of the pandemic, which would have allowed a paramedic to use a foot, Christian replied that there were no such methods. approved.

“Accepted painful stimuli include chest rubbing or pinching of the patient’s fingertips,” said Marc Eckstein, professor of emergency medicine at the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine and division chief Los Angeles County EMS. “Physically hitting, kicking or punching a patient is never taught, nor are they acceptable painful stimulation techniques.”

Eckstein is an expert in emergency medical services, transport protocols, triage protocols, and emergency cardiovascular care.

“The basic mantra of medicine and prehospital medicine is ‘First do no harm,'” Eckstein said in an email response to questions. “While prehospital providers certainly have the right to defend themselves if a patient poses a danger to them, there is no excuse for physically hitting or kicking a patient to determine their level of consciousness or for “painful stimuli”.

Poston also takes issue with the body-worn video footage used as evidence in a civil lawsuit against Bennett and CHI Memorial by the patient, saying it does not show a clear view of what is happening in the room.

“What this shows is that Bennett kicks them (the officers) out of the room,” Poston said.

Once the man was conscious, officers confirmed he did not need to take the ambulance for further medical attention and arrested him, according to the affidavit.

Two days later, Bennett was informed that a warrant had been signed for his arrest.

According to Poston, the assault charges against his client were unfounded and stemmed from the fact that Bennett asked the East Ridge police officers to leave the room so he could do his job.

“He told a cop what to do, and that’s something they don’t like being told,” Poston said. “If you’ve seen the video, what’s shown is him walking in and taking over the room, giving them the quick ‘get out of here’ hand sign, and it was a little abrasive , but he’s here to save a life, and to save a life, you can’t have a bunch of guys around.”

Bennett now works as a courier in Georgia after losing his emergency medical technician license in Tennessee, and he’s not sure he’ll ever get it back, Poston said.

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“The state told him he had to file a report for an altercation,” Poston said. “He revived the guy using painful stimuli, it wasn’t an altercation, so he didn’t file an altercation report with the patient.”

When asked if Bennett could get his EMT license back, Christian said the department does not discuss specific cases or investigations, as they are confidential.

Contact La Shawn Pagán at lpagan@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6476. Follow her on Twitter @LaShawnPagan.