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Pricked by Dirty Needle, City Cop Sues VCU, State

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At first, the court filing reads like a well-scripted comic chase scene.

Richmond Police respond to a call at the posh and proper Jefferson Hotel Nov. 25, 2004, to find a man in nothing but shorts sitting outside and "screaming incoherently about being jilted by his lover," according to the filing.

With a bloody towel wrapped around his wrist, the half-naked man tears through the hotel's grand lobby with cops in hot pursuit. A spritz of Mace, a protracted struggle and some less-than-fashionable police-issue jewelry eventually convince the man that he won't be staying for crumpets in The Jefferson's tea room.

From there the story quickly turns tragic.

Crystal Caldwell, then a Richmond police officer, helps subdue the man. She rides with him in the ambulance to the VCU Medical Center emergency room, where she is informed by medical staff that the man is a well-known prostitute who is HIV positive.

One of the nurses, named in the court filing as Brian Sloan, is then accused of pricking Caldwell with a needle he'd just used to administer medication to the HIV-positive patient.

He says something along the lines of: "Oh my God! Get your gloves off — that was a dirty needle," according to Caldwell's lawsuit, filed in Richmond Circuit Court last month, just days before the two-year statute of limitations expired and, according to her lawyer, after two years of pain, suffering and the uncertainty of living with a possible viral death sentence.

"Well, she was obviously exposed to the HIV virus," says Jonathan Petty, Caldwell's attorney. "It's been two years — she has made a recovery and has been cleared — but that's a long road to go down. Certainly there is an emotional component to her claim."

Petty declined to comment on Caldwell's medical condition. Caldwell, through her attorney, also declined to comment. The lawsuit states that she "is expected to experience injuries in the future," resulting from the needle prick. Caldwell left the Richmond Police Department in February of this year, according to a police spokesman.

Both Sloan and the physician named in the suit, Dr. Michael S. Gonzales, are still employed in the emergency department at VCU, according to public records confirmed by a hospital official. The hospital, several of its entities and the commonwealth of Virginia are also named in the suit.

The lawsuit asks for $500,000 from Sloan and Gonzales and — because of a cap on judgments against the state — $100,000 from the state and the hospital.

VCU spokeswoman Pam Lepley, representing the hospital, declines to comment: "We don't discuss pending litigation."

The case, Petty says, comes down to whether the hospital followed protocol. "It's a question of proper nursing care and the handling of dirty [needles]," he says. "Our contention is that it's inappropriate to hold two needles in the same hand — one dirty, used needle — while you're trying to give a shot with the clean needle." S

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