Paramedic stripped of credentials in death

 Officials in Clearwater say Dwayne Vaughn deliberately misled them after a Tasered man died when two defibrillators failed to function.

Published June 24, 2006

CLEARWATER - A paramedic with more than 20 years of experience lied about the death of a man he couldn't revive with a defibrillator because its batteries were dead, city officials said Friday.

Dwayne "Chris" Vaughn, 47, has had his paramedic's license revoked and faces further discipline after an internal city investigation found inconsistencies in reports he completed regarding the death of Thomas C. Tipton.

"Honesty and candor is an essential component in what we do," said J.P. Medani, the city's assistant fire chief for emergency medical services. "He knew it was wrong, and we're not going to tolerate it."

Vaughn and a second paramedic tried to resuscitate Tipton, 34, of Tampa, who went limp on April 5 after being Tasered, handcuffed and restrained face-down by three Clearwater police officers.

The paramedics, however, could not use a portable defibrillator because they had left the device turned on earlier, draining its batteries, officials have said. Tipton, a staffing firm manager, was pronounced dead a short time later.

It was unknown whether a defibrillator shock at the time Tipton went limp could have saved his life, officials say.

Medical examiners determined Tipton died from asphyxiation, which resulted from his being restrained face-down on a patio as officers compressed his chest. Alcohol in his system might have hastened the asphyxia, Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney Bernie McCabe concluded last month.

After the incident, Vaughn, as is standard procedure, produced several documents related to Tipton's care. He printed an internal log generated by the defibrillator itself, but later admitted he removed sections of it, Medani said. He also wrote in a patient care report that Tipton had a normal heart rhythm, something he couldn't have measured without a working defibrillator.

"There was a deliberate intent to deceive," city communications director Doug Matthews said.

Officials were trying to reach Vaughn on Friday and would not say what disciplinary action they planned until they had talked to the paramedic.

Vaughn, who had no previous disciplinary problems in his 23-year career, could not be reached for comment on Friday. But during a formal interview he told officials he had written the report "under stressful conditions" and was unsure whether he had proofread it.

Besides the records in question, the city's review determined Vaughn and his partner, Jeffrey Kyle Wallace, 27, had acted within policy in treating Tipton. As required, they had checked the defibrillator batteries at the beginning of their shift. The batteries, it turned out, drained later that day after they had responded to a medical call and left the device on.

"It was simply human error," Medani said. "It didn't violate any policy."

In the intervening months, Clearwater Fire Rescue has added safeguards to prevent a similar incident, Medani said. For instance, paramedics now carry an additional backup defibrillator battery and have rechargers on their vehicles.

"I would say that everything possible has been done to ensure that such an error never occurs again," he said.

Attorney Christopher P. Jayson of Cohen, Jayson & Foster, which represents Tipton's family, has said he was investigating the circumstances of his death, from his encounter with police to his care by paramedics.

McCabe, the state attorney, has concluded that the three officers who Tasered Tipton and held him down had acted properly, using force that was "reasonable, necessary and justified."

According to McCabe and Clearwater police, this is what happened on the day Tipton died:

At 11:30 p.m., after several hours of drinking and drug use, Tipton walked into the courtyard of the Tropic Isle Motel on north Clearwater Beach. He knocked over several patio chairs and broke jalousie windows, prompting the motel manager and a guest to call 911.

When officers tried to subdue him, Tipton kicked and punched at them while shouting expletives. Officers shocked him with a Taser twice and got his hands in cuffs with his arms behind him.

They eventually were able to take down Tipton, who weighed a muscular 270 pounds. They held him face-down, but Tipton continued to resist for a short time before going limp.

Vaughn and Wallace, who had already been called to the scene, then tried to resuscitate him with a defibrillator. The battery was dead. So was the backup.

When a third battery was obtained, the heart monitor showed no activity. Tipton was transported to Morton Plant Hospital and pronounced dead at 12:28 a.m.