Utah officer who arrested nurse over blood test put on leave
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A Utah nurse said she was scared to death when a police officer handcuffed and dragged her screaming from a hospital after she refused to allow blood to be drawn from an unconscious patient.
After Alex Wubbels and her attorneys released dramatic video of the arrest, prosecutors called for a criminal investigation and Salt Lake City police put Detective Jeff Payne on paid leave Friday.
“This cop bullied me. He bullied me to the utmost extreme,” Wubbels said in an interview with The Associated Press. “And nobody stood in his way.”
The Salt Lake City police chief and mayor also apologized and changed department policies in line with the guidance Wubbels was following in the July 26 incident.
Wubbels, a former alpine skier who competed in the 1998 and 2002 Winter Olympics, said she adhered to her training and hospital protocols to protect the rights of a patient who could not speak for himself.
“You can’t just take blood if you don’t have a legitimate concern for something to be tested,” Wubbels said. “It is the most personal property I think that we can have besides our skin and bones and organs.”
Payne didn’t return messages left at publicly listed phone numbers, and the Salt Lake Police Association union did not respond to messages for comment. The department and a civilian board also are conducting reviews.
“I was alarmed by what I saw in the video with our officer,” Police Chief Mike Brown said.
Police body-camera video shows Wubbels, who works in the burn unit, calmly explaining that she could not take blood from a patient who had been injured in a deadly car accident, citing a recent change in law. A 2016 U.S. Supreme Court ruling said a blood sample cannot be taken without patient consent or a warrant.
Wubbels told Payne that a patient had to allow a blood sample to determine intoxication or be under arrest. Otherwise, she said police needed a warrant. Police did not, but Payne insisted.
The dispute ended with Payne saying, “We’re done, you’re under arrest” and pulling her outside while she screamed and said, “I’ve done nothing wrong!”
He had called his supervisor and discussed the time-sensitive blood draw for over an hour with hospital staff, police spokeswoman Christina Judd said.
“It’s not an excuse. It definitely doesn’t forgive what happened,” she said.
Payne wrote in a police report that he grabbed Wubbels and took her outside to avoid causing a “scene” in the emergency room. He said his boss, a lieutenant whose actions also were being reviewed, told him to arrest Wubbels if she kept interfering.
The detective left Wubbels in a hot police car for 20 minutes before realizing that blood had already been drawn as part of treatment, said her lawyer, Karra Porter. Wubbels was not charged.
“This has upended her worldview in a way. She just couldn’t believe this could happen,” Porter said.
Wubbels and her attorneys on Thursday released the video they obtained through a public records request to call for change. She has not sued, but that could change, said attorney Jake Macfarlane.
Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill said that the video was concerning and called the police chief to ask for a criminal investigation.
The department is open to the inquiry that will be run by Salt Lake County’s Unified Police, Judd said. Gill’s office will review the findings.
In response to the incident, Judd said the department updated its blood-draw policy last week to mirror what the hospital uses. She said officers have already received additional training.
The agency has met with hospital administration to ensure it does not happen again and to repair ties.
“There’s a strong bond between fire, police and nurses because they all work together to help save lives, and this caused an unfortunate rift that we are hoping to repair immediately,” Judd said.
The hospital said it’s proud of the way Wubbels handled the situation.
The patient was a victim in a car crash and Payne wanted the blood sample to show he had done nothing wrong, according to the officer’s written report.
The patient, William Gray, is a reserve police officer in Rigby, Idaho, according to the city’s police. They thanked Wubbels for protecting his rights.
Gray is a semi-truck driver and was on the road when a pickup truck fleeing from authorities slammed into him and his truck burst into flames, police reports say.
Ho reported from Las Vegas. Associated Press writers Michelle Price and Brady McCombs contributed to this report.