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10 Good People Who Were Punished For Helping Others

by Mark Oliver
fact checked by Jamie Frater

No good deed goes unpunished. The world has its share of heroic people who will risk their own lives to keep other people safe, but they don’t always get parades and trophies for their good deeds.

In the name of bureaucracy, procedure, or just pure selfishness, some people get dragged through hell for trying to help others. Sometimes it’s out of jealousy, sometimes it’s for profit, and sometimes there’s a whole system in place designed to keep people from being extraordinary. Whatever the reason, the way these good people were treated will make your blood boil.

10 Oliver Sipple Saved The President, So The Media Outed Him As Gay

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Oliver Sipple wasn’t a Secret Service agent or a bodyguard—he was just a bystander in a crowd. He’d come out to see Gerald Ford, never expecting for a moment that he’d end up saving the president’s life.

But when a woman in the crowd pulled out a revolver and fired at President Ford, Sipple was the one who stopped her. He grabbed the assassin’s arm, knocked the gun out of her hands, and saved Ford’s life.

The media went into a frenzy. Sipple begged them not to put his name in the news, but it was too perfect a story to leave out of the papers. They reported everything that they could find about him.

Pretty soon, though, the papers were running out of new angles on the story. So when word got out that Sipple had been spotted in gay bars, they outed him on the front page.

It was actually Harvey Milk who leaked the story.[1] He thought that outing Sipple would improve the public’s image of homosexuals, but Sipple went through hell because of it. His family didn’t know he was gay until they read it in the paper. When they found out, they ostracized him.

As his reward for his heroism, Sipple was left lonely and rejected by his family. He spiraled into depression and died an alcoholic at the young age of 47.

9 A Lifeguard Was Fired For Saving A Drowning Man

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Tomas Lopez was on duty at Hallandale Beach, Florida, when someone rushed over to his post. A man had swum out too far, Lopez was told, and the victim was drowning. As any lifeguard would, Lopez rushed over and got the man to shore with the help of some other beachgoers. There, they gave the man CPR, called the paramedics, and saved his life.

When Lopez handed in the incident report, he was fired instead of being heralded as a hero. The drowning man, his company informed him, was “out of the protected area” and a clearly visible sign said that anyone who swam there did so at his own risk. According to company policy, anyone drowning outside the designated area was to be left to die.

Lopez’s coworkers were infuriated. Six other lifeguards stood up for him, telling the company and the media that they would have done the exact same thing and that Lopez deserved an apology. So the company fired them, too.[2]

8 Veronica Cherwinski Was Arrested For Saving Her Friend From An Overdose

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Veronica Cherwinski had already lost one friend to heroin, and she was about to lose another. Her neighbor was lying on her couch, passed out from an overdose, and going through all the same symptoms Cherwinski had seen. She wasn’t willing to lose another friend. So she called 911 and waited with the woman until rescue workers arrived.

Cherwinski’s call saved her friend’s life. But instead of thanking her, the officer who responded decided to bust her for drugs, too. He searched her home for heroin, arrested her on possession, and threw her in jail.

The arrest was illegal. The state had a law giving immunity from drug charges to anyone trying to save someone from an overdose. But the police sergeant defended his officer.

According to the sergeant, he tells his men that, when in doubt, they should “make the arrest and let the situation play out.” The judge and the court-ordered defense lawyer didn’t care enough to look into whether Cherwinski was protected.

The reporters at The Providence Journal decided to take up Cherwinski’s cause. When the law wouldn’t lift a finger to protect her, they proved that she couldn’t be charged and got her released.

By then, though, it was too late. Cherwinski’s drug tolerance had dropped in prison and nobody made any effort to help her change her lifestyle. Shortly after getting out, she injected again. Unaware that she couldn’t handle the same doses anymore, she overdosed and died.[3]

7 A 90-Year-Old Man Was Given Jail Time For Feeding The Homeless

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Arnold Abbott was working with two Christian ministers to feed the homeless outside of a Fort Lauderdale park when the police showed up. For feeding the homeless near a park, they told the 90-year-old man as they slapped handcuffs on him, he was going to be hit with a $500 fine and 60 days in jail.

Fort Lauderdale had just introduced a new ordinance that made it illegal to share food with the homeless within 152 meters (500 ft) of a residential area, and Abbott liked to set up his booth near the local park. His booth was likely part of the reason. One supporter of the law complained that his booth brought out the homeless and their “god-awful smell.”

Abbott still feeds the homeless. But to manage the charges the city keeps lobbing at him, he’s had to resort to selling his blood money. Still, Abbott has promised, “I’ll keep doing it for as long as there’s breath in my body.”[4]

6 Target Sued Three Men For Saving A Young Girl’s Life

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Leon Walls’s rampage started on the streets. Walls, a homeless man who was out of his mind, walked up to a group of men he’d never met and stabbed one on the street. Then he ran as fast as he could into a nearby Target.

The stabbed man and two of his friends rushed after Walls, trying to stop him before he could hurt anyone else. But by the time they found him, he was already holding a 16-year-old girl at knifepoint.

They tried to talk him down. But when Walls started stabbing the girl in the ribs, they jumped into action. One tackled Walls from behind while the girl’s mother pulled her to safety and the other men took him down. The girl survived. But if those three men hadn’t been there, she would have died.

Instead of praising them, though, Target sued them. In what may be a move to limit their liability, Target has declared that the men who stopped Walls are responsible for his actions because they chased him into the store.

“I really don’t understand,” the girl’s father has said. “We certainly hold these guys in the highest regard for what they did.”[5]

5 A Couple Was Arrested For Finding Meth In A Rental Home

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Michael and Channel Keeley were arrested for doing the right thing. They had just learned that the tenants who were renting their home had been busted for meth possession. So the Keeleys went to the property to clean it up and put it back on the market. While there, they found that their ruined house had eight bags of meth hidden inside the walls.

The Keeleys immediately reported this to the police. But for some inexplicable reason, the police decided that this was all some strange ruse. “Tell the truth,” the reporting officer snapped. “We know no one broke into your house. You did this yourself.”

The officer then arrested the couple for “tampering with evidence”[6] because, apparently, finding evidence and immediately handing it over to the police is a form of tampering. They threw the couple in jail and threatened to send their nine-year-old son to child services.

After it became a media circus, the police dropped the charges. But the couple spent two days in prison, had to pay $5,000 each to post bail, and saw their son become traumatized by an officer of the law before that happened—all because they tried to do the right thing.

4 A Man Sued Maryland General Hospital For Saving His Mother’s Life

At 83, Beatrice Weisman was recovering from a serious stroke in Maryland General Hospital when she suffered a heart attack. The medical staff jumped into action. Without wasting a second, they used CPR and a defibrillator to get her heart back to normal and save her life. For a brief moment, they thought they were heroes—until Weisman’s son sued them.

The hospital didn’t realize that Weisman’s husband had signed legal papers saying that his wife should be allowed to die if her heart failed. Beatrice and her husband had put advanced directives in place before any of this happened.

However, in their rush to save her life, the hospital staff didn’t think to check if anyone had signed a legal form to let the patient die in such a case.[7] The document was at the top of her chart.

Eventually, Beatrice’s son sued the hospital for $250,000 plus an additional $180,000 for each year that his mother continues to live. Those amounts represent the costs of her care in the hospital and at home. The lawsuit alleges negligence, assault, and the “intentional infliction of emotional distress.”

Philosophically speaking, it’s a tricky moral problem with no clear answer. Beatrice’s end-of-life wishes were unintentionally disregarded by good people who saved her life. But her quality of life is not that of a healthy person. And this is not what she wanted. Absent a lawsuit, the hospital and the good people who saved her life also do not have to pay for her continuing cost of care. Without enough money, what would happen to Beatrice?

She sustained broken ribs and collapsed lungs from the efforts to save her life. When she was released from the hospital a few months later, she was bedridden and hooked up to a feeding tube and catheters. Her family paid out of pocket for 24/7 care and intensive physical therapy.

As a result, Beatrice is now able to live at home, eat meals, and go to church on Sundays. But she still needs 24-hour-a-day care and has dementia that leaves her frightened and confused. Her son says that Beatrice is suffering and that she wonders why she is still alive.

3 Ryan Snodgrass Was Arrested For Saving A 13-Year-Old Girl’s Life

Ryan Snodgrass was working as a rafting guide in Clear Creek, Colorado, when he spotted a 13-year-old girl struggling to keep her head above the water. She’d been swimming for more than 30 minutes since her raft capsized, and the whole town was looking for her. Snodgrass, though, was the first to spot her, and he didn’t want to waste one more second before saving her.

Snodgrass jumped in the water, grabbed hold of her, and saved her life. Then he let Sheriff Don Krueger know that he could call off the rescue team. The girl was safe.

Instead of thanking him, though, Sheriff Krueger slapped handcuffs on Snodgrass. Krueger, it seems, had wanted to be the hero. By saving the girl’s life before he could, Krueger declared, Snodgrass was “obstructing government operations.”

When the story got out to the press, Krueger agreed to drop the charges—but only if he still got to look good. The only way he would drop the charges, he told Snodgrass, was if Snodgrass publicly apologized and told the world that Krueger was in the right.[8]

So Snodgrass had to release a statement saying that he was sorry he’d saved a young girl’s life. If he hadn’t, he would have been thrown into jail.

2 A Woman Sued Her Doctor For Diagnosing Her With HIV

In New York City, Dr. Pavel Yutsis was running tests on a patient who thought she might have a vitamin B12 deficiency when he found something troubling. There were signs that she might have HIV, he told her, and he wanted to run tests to find out for sure.

The woman refused. She was healthier than ever, she insisted, because she’d rapidly been losing weight for reasons she couldn’t fully understand. “I’m slim, trim, and sexy,” the woman insisted. “If I turn sideways, I’ll be marked absent.”[9]

Dr. Yutsis was worried enough about her health that he ran the test anyway. When she came in for another checkup, he broke the news that she was HIV-positive. The diagnosis gave her time to get help. But instead of thanking him, she sued him for running the tests without permission.

“The stress in getting the test would be worse than not knowing,” the woman’s lawyer told the press after filing a lawsuit against Dr. Yutsis for “terror, confusion, embarrassment and emotional distress.”

1 Peng Yu Was Sued For Helping An Old Woman

Stories like these don’t just affect one person. They can change the way a whole culture behaves. That’s certainly what happened in China after a man named Peng Yu was sued for helping an old woman who’d fallen down.

Peng Yu saw Xu Shoulan fall as she was getting off a bus. He rushed over to help her, took her to the hospital, and handed her the money he had in his pocket to help pay her bills. But instead of thanking him, Xu Shoulan sued him, claiming he’d pushed her.

There was no evidence against Peng Yu. In fact, there were several witnesses who testified that he wasn’t anywhere near Xu Shoulan when she fell. The judge, however, ruled that “no one would in good conscience help someone unless they felt guilty”[10] and forced him to pay her the equivalent of $6,076.

It didn’t just affect Peng Yu. Afterward, people across China were too terrified to help anyone who got hurt because there was a legal precedent that let injured people sue the people who helped them.

One of the worst stories came in 2011. A two-year-old girl was run over by a car while 18 people watched. But nobody moved a muscle to help her. Terrified that they’d be sued like Peng Yu, all 18 people walked away and left the child to die.


Surprisingly, sometimes it goes the other way. Read about amazingly good deeds done by bad people on 10 Amazingly Good Acts Performed By Bad People and 10 Surprising Good Deeds From History’s Greatest Villains.

fact checked by Jamie Frater
Mark Oliver

Mark Oliver is a regular contributor to Listverse. His writing also appears on a number of other sites, including The Onion's StarWipe and His website is regularly updated with everything he writes.

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