In a news conference Thursday at the offices of her lawyer, University of Utah Registered Nurse Alex Wubbels alleged that a Salt Lake City police officer, Detective Jeff Payne, assaulted and wrongfully arrested her as she was attempting to follow hospital policy.
On July 26, Wubbels was working in the U hospital’s burn unit when Payne and other officers approached her, requesting a blood sample from a patient “suspected to be under the influence.” In body camera footage obtained by both The Salt Lake Tribune and Deseret News, she can be seen showing officers a policy agreed to by both the U and Salt Lake City Police Department (SLCPD) that says blood cannot be obtained by police from a patient unless the officer has a warrant, the unconscious patient has consented or the patient was under arrest.
Payne told another officer early on in the situation, “You tell her if she interferes in any way of you getting the blood draw, she is to be arrested.”
In the videos, Payne asked Wubbels, who was on the phone with hospital administrators, “So I take it … I’m not going to get blood. Am I fair to surmise that?”
The administrator asked Payne over speaker phone, “Why are you blaming the messenger, sir?”
He answered, “She’s the one that has told me ‘no’.”
The administrator responded, “Yeah, but sir, you’re making a huge mistake right now … you’re threatening a nurse.”
To that, Payne said, “No, we’re done. We’re done. You’re under arrest.”
In the video, Payne physically takes Wubbels outside the building and places her under arrest as she screamed for help.
When other employees question why Wubbels was being taken into custody, Payne can be heard saying, “I’m leaving now, and I’m taking her.” As he walked Wubbles to a patrol car, she said, “Please, sir, you’re hurting me.” She asked repeatedly, “What is happening?”
After Wubbels is placed in the patrol car, a new SLCPD officer approached, saying he needs to speak to Payne. The name plate on his uniform is illegible in the video. Their conversation is inaudible in body camera footage, but afterward, he turned to speak to Wubbels, telling her he appreciated that the U’s hospital has a policy but that he was trying to talk to her about the law. She told him she’s obligated to protect her patient.
In response, he told her that the patient the police want blood from is the victim of a crime and that, if the police were doing something wrong, there are “civil remedies” that will make it “all [go] away.” He explained to Wubbels that he’s been a police officer for over two decades — saying he knows the law and her refusal to let the police take a blood sample is obstruction of justice. “Your policy doesn’t affect my legal standing.” Later he told another employee, “There’s a very bad policy up here of your policy interfering with my law.”
When another hospital employee told the officer he has the hospital’s privacy officer on the phone, the officer said, “he doesn’t know anything, I don’t need to talk to him.”
The patient whose blood they were seeking is William Gray, who is a reserve police officer in Idaho, according to law enforcement in the video. Earlier that day he was involved in a serious car accident while working as a semi-truck driver. Utah Highway Patrol officers had noticed a truck driving erratically on the freeway. When they attempted to pull the car over, driver Marco Torres fled, leading to a pursuit that ended when he hit Gray’s truck head on. Torres was killed in the collision, and Gray emerged from his truck engulfed in flames. U hospital officials told The Salt Lake Tribune Thursday that Gray remains in critical condition.
Wubbels hasn’t filed a lawsuit or pressed charges of any kind against Payne. An assault against a health care worker in Utah can result in a felony charge. She told news organizations that if the public release of police footage doesn’t start a discourse with the police department, she’ll consider filing a lawsuit. Wubbels also criticized a U campus police officer who watched the altercation but didn’t step in.
Wubbels was later released and was never charged with any crime.
Payne is still on active duty but is temporarily not helping with other blood draws. The police department has opened an internal investigation.
The U and University of Utah Health did not immediately respond to requests for copies of the policy Wubbels referenced in the video. However, in a statement, they said, “University of Utah Health supports Nurse Wubbels and her decision to focus first and foremost on the care and well-being of her patient. She followed procedures and protocols in this matter and was acting in her patient’s best interest. We have worked with our law enforcement partners on this issue to ensure an appropriate process for moving forward.”
Hospital spokesperson Suzanne Winchester says, “[G]oing forward as a result of this incident, we have modified our procedures with law enforcement regarding blood draws from patients. Now, if law enforcement needs a blood draw from a patient, they will be required to work directly with our nurse supervisor on-call (the house manager for the hospital), who will manage the process as a central point person to determine the best course of action. This will eliminate the ability for law enforcement to go directly to patient care units for blood draws.”
According to Winchester, the new blood draw policy at the hospital, like the one Wubbels outlines in video footage, has been agreed to by SLCPD and University of Utah Campus Police.
UPDATE 9/1/2017 10:55am: Wubbels’s lawyer, Karra Porter, says Payne believed he was operating under Utah’s implied consent law which stated that driving a vehicle was implicit agreement to tests for drug or alcohol use, including blood tests. However, implied consent law has not been effective in Utah since 2007, and warrantless blood tests for alcohol consumption were ruled unconstitutional in 2016 by the U.S. Supreme Court in a 7-1 ruling.