Utah nurse’s arrest raises questions on evidence collection

In this July 26, 2017, frame grab from video taken from a police body camera and provided by attorney Karra Porter, nurse Alex Wubbels is arrested by a Salt Lake City police officer at University Hospital in Salt Lake City. The Utah police department is making changes after the officer dragged Wubbels out of the hospital in handcuffs when she refused to allow blood to be drawn from an unconscious patient. Photo courtesy of Salt Lake City Police Department/Karra Porter via AP, St. George News

UTAH (AP) – The videotaped arrest of a Utah nurse who refused to allow blood to be drawn from an unconscious patient has raised questions about how far officers can go to collect evidence and has led to policy changes within the Salt Lake City Police Department.

Nurse Alex Wubbels speaks during an interview, Friday, Sept. 1, 2017, in Salt Lake City. Wubbels followed hospital policy and advice from her bosses when she told Salt Lake City police Detective Jeff Payne that he could not get a blood sample without a warrant or consent from the patient, according to her attorney. The police department is making changes after Payne dragged a screaming Wubbels out of the hospital in handcuffs when she refused to allow blood to be drawn from the unconscious patient |
AP Photo by Rick Bowmer, St. George News

Alex Wubbels, a nurse at University Hospital in Salt Lake City, and 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.”

Police body-camera video taken July 26 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. Payne did not have one, but he insisted on the blood draw.

The dispute ended with Payne arresting Wubbels.

Here are some of the legal issues involved:

In this July 26, 2017, frame grab from video taken from a police body camera and provided by attorney Karra Porter, nurse Alex Wubbels is arrested by a Salt Lake City police officer at University Hospital in Salt Lake City. The Utah police department is making changes after the officer dragged Wubbels out of the hospital in handcuffs when she refused to allow blood to be drawn from an unconscious patient |
Photo courtesy of Salt Lake City Police Department/Karra Porter via AP, St. George News

What happened?

Police body-camera video released Thursday shows Salt Lake City Detective Jeff Payne handcuffing nurse Alex Wubbels after she refused to allow blood to be drawn from an unconscious patient after a car crash.

In the video, Wubbels explains she’s protecting the patient’s rights and she can’t take the man’s blood unless he is under arrest, police have a warrant or the patient consents.

None of that applied, and the patient was not a suspect. Payne’s written report says he wanted the sample to show the victim did nothing wrong.

The dispute ended with Payne telling Wubbels: “We’re done, you’re under arrest.” He pulled Wubbels outside while she screams: “I’ve done nothing wrong!”

Wubbels is being praised for her actions to protect the patient, while Payne and another officer are on paid leave. Criminal and internal affairs investigations are underway.

Legal issues at play?

Nurse Alex Wubbels, right, displays video frame grabs of herself being taken into custody while her attorney Karra Porter looks on during an interview, Friday, Sept. 1, 2017, in Salt Lake City. Wubbels followed hospital policy and advice from her bosses when she told Salt Lake City police Detective Jeff Payne that he could not get a blood sample without a warrant or consent from the patient, according to Porter. The police department is making changes after Payne dragged Wubbels out of the hospital in handcuffs when she refused to allow blood to be drawn from the unconscious patient | AP Photo by Rick Bowmer, St. George News

A 2016 U.S. Supreme Court ruling says a blood sample can’t be taken without patient consent or a warrant. But in this case, the officer reportedly believed he had “implied consent” to take the patient’s blood.

Implied consent assumes that a person with a driver’s license has given approval for blood draws, alcohol breath screenings or other tests if there’s reason to believe the driver is under the influence.

Paul Cassell, a criminal law professor at the University of Utah’s S.J. Quinney College of Law, wrote in an opinion piece for The Salt Lake Tribune that state law doesn’t permit a blood draw in this situation — especially since the blood was being sought to prove the patient was not under the influence.

Wubbels’ attorney, Karra Porter, said the state’s implied-consent law “has no relevance in this case whatsoever under anyone’s interpretation. … The officer here admitted on the video and to another officer on the scene that he knew there was no probable cause for a warrant.”

Medical personnel vs. police

Charles Idelson, a spokesman for National Nurses United, said a nurse’s prime responsibility is to be a patient advocate and protect patients, especially when they can’t consent themselves.

Meanwhile, police are investigators and have to capture forensic evidence, which in the case of a blood draw, is decaying with every passing minute, said Ron Martinelli, a forensic criminologist and certified medical investigator.

“For the officer, the clock is ticking,” Martinelli said.

But even with those different objectives, police and medical professionals routinely cooperate and conflicts like the Utah case are infrequent, Martinelli said.

In this July 26, 2017, frame grab from video taken from a police body camera and provided by attorney Karra Porter, nurse Alex Wubbels is arrested by a Salt Lake City police officer at University Hospital in Salt Lake City. The Utah police department is making changes after the officer dragged Wubbels out of the hospital in handcuffs when she refused to allow blood to be drawn from an unconscious patient |
Photo courtesy of Salt Lake City Police Department/Karra Porter via AP, St. George News

The officers

A second officer who was put on leave Friday has not been formally identified, but officials have said they were reviewing the conduct of Payne’s boss, a lieutenant who reportedly called for Wubbels’ arrest if she kept interfering.

Wubbels, who was not charged with a crime, has said that Payne “bullied me to the utmost extreme.” Payne hasn’t returned messages left at publicly listed phone numbers.

The Salt Lake City police chief and mayor also apologized and changed department policies on blood draws. Police spokeswoman Christina Judd said the new policy does not allow for implied consent for any party and requires a warrant or consent.

Judd also said the agency has met with hospital administration to ensure it does not happen again and to repair relationships.

Written by AMY FORLITI, reporting from Minneapolis. Associated Press writer Sally Ho in Las Vegas, and Michelle Price and Brady McCombs contributed to this story.

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Email: news@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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16 Comments

  • comments September 3, 2017 at 2:52 pm

    trigger happy and imbecile cops need to be out of a job, period. It’s often surprising how quickly cops can become the enemy. They need to have it drilled into them that they work for the public. Even these stg coppers get out of hand. You wanna go acting like nazi SS then you will be dealt with. And you good coppers need to stop covering for the ones you know are bad. If you do you are also the enemy.

  • DRT September 3, 2017 at 3:35 pm

    I’m retired law. And this video makes my blood boil. In looking at it, I can see all kinds of problems for the detective from false arrest, to assault under the color of authority, clear up to kidnapping.
    What makes me even more angry, is that it’s so obvious that this whole thing was going to be swept under the carpet by SLPD. The only reason any action was taken on the situation, was the nurse releasing the video. The “reassigning” of the detective is no type of action that means anything.
    I hope that DA Gill does a very thorough job in his investigation. Not only of this incident itself, but of the command officer that was “authorizing” it. And the chief for trying to sweep it under the rug.

    • ScanMeister September 3, 2017 at 6:38 pm

      Wow, DRT before I read any of the comments I was formulating in my mind the text I was going to write. DRT you picked my pocket for the text I had formulated. My additional comment would be there are some great LEO doing an outstanding honorable job and they are just as saddened as many over this incident. The attempt to sweep this under the rug adds to the list of individuals in trouble for their actions.

      • DRT September 3, 2017 at 7:39 pm

        Uh-oh! Didn’t mean to steal your thunder SM. 😉
        Sometimes it seems that cops are their own worst enemy. Every time you read of a rogue cop, it gives all cops another black eye.

  • NickDanger September 3, 2017 at 3:41 pm

    Ya know, this is bad, it really is. Should not have happened, that detective obviously should have exercised restraint and good judgment. He did not. He was, however, obeying an order from his lieutenant. So to say he did the wrong thing is a gray area – the lieutenant who gave the order is ultimately liable. It’s not as if Detective Payne was following a wrong order to shoot someone, handcuffs can be taken off.

    This thing is getting blown out of proportion. Let’s look at the real fallout:

    1. The blood was not drawn. Nurse Wubbels’ purpose was accomplished.

    2. Nurse Wubbels was not booked or charged with anything.

    3. Nurse Wubbels was not injured.

    4. Nurse Wubbels was not publicly humiliated. If anything she is now America’s Hero Nurse.

    She did suffer a few minutes of emotional trauma at the hands of Detective Payne.

    But that is all. That is the only real thing that happened here. Nurse Wubbels was almost immediately vindicated by the international media, and shown to be absolutely correct and resolute in her behavior. She’s a superstar and a media darling.

    People get all emotional when they see people arrested. It happens. It’s not the end of the world.

    What we did find out here is that Lt. James Tracy of the SLPD does not know the law well enough to do his job correctly. That is something that can be addressed. Procedures and training can be looked at, and brought up-to-date. Both of these are positives.

    The real victim here will ultimately be Detective Payne, who, again, was following orders given to him by a superior. He’s going to be raked over the coals, it’s easy enough to see that coming. But in the end, he was just doing his job.

    • DRT September 3, 2017 at 7:42 pm

      “The real victim here will ultimately be Detective Payne, who, again, was following orders given to him by a superior. He’s going to be raked over the coals, it’s easy enough to see that coming. But in the end, he was just doing his job.”
      No Nick no way is Payne a “victim” here. At least of anything other than his own hot temper.
      “I was just following orders” Is a line from the Germans working the concentration camps, in trying to excuse their actions.

      • NickDanger September 3, 2017 at 9:07 pm

        Riiiight, because putting handcuffs on a nurse because your lieutenant told you to arrest her if she refused to cooperate is the same thing as killing 6 million Jews. Isn’t it time for your Antifa meeting, DRT?

  • Jack September 3, 2017 at 3:51 pm

    This article is misleading. The warrantless search under ‘exigencies circumstances’ for blood test still applies to serious road accidents where there is no way to take a breath test, as where the driver is unconscious. If this was the case here, the safety officer was doing his duty in asking the nurse to take a blood test, absent a warrant, to preserve the evidence of impairment,
    or lack thereof. Alcohol dissipates withi two hours. If the officer was under time pressure b/c of the seriousness of the accident,
    other ppl injured, handling traffic, clearing debris, he is not required to then go to a court for a warrant. He has to get the
    evidence, and if the driver is unconscious, the blood test is permitted without a warrant.

    The video of a hysterical woman triggers emotions, which is why I suspect the article is written up
    like it is. The nurse was interfering with a safety officer doing his job. She had to be arrested if she
    categorically refused to take the blood test, under his direction, she became a part of the evidence team.

    • Caveat_Emptor September 3, 2017 at 6:15 pm

      Perhaps if you had followed this ugly situation, via the Salt Lake Tribune, you would have a different opinion. To their credit, the Tribune has followed it for several days, and gives us the historical perspective: that the patient was an innocent person driving the semi southbound that was hit almost head on, by the northbound bad guy. The patient was not suspected of anything, other than being at the wrong place at the wrong time.
      I am sure everyone who reads this newspaper appreciates the role of public safety officers, and healthcare professionals. However, in this specific interaction, not only did the SLCPD come up short, but why did the University Police officers just stand around useless, instead of mediating? If I were an employee or student on the campus I would not be confident in the capability of the so-called campus police force.
      We all hope that something different will happen the next time.

      • bikeandfish September 3, 2017 at 6:41 pm

        I agree. I too wonder why the officer stationed at the hospital didn’t intervene. Was the arresting officer or his boss giving direct orders to arrest of higher seniority/rank? Policy of the hospital? I truly don’t know and haven’t seen an answer.

        There is no evidence of intent at this point but I have to question the action given the death was a direct result of a police chase. Those incidents often increase department scrutiny.

    • bikeandfish September 3, 2017 at 6:37 pm

      There is a reason she wasn’t charged and released on site. There is a reason the police department changed its policy. Its because their demand was meritless.

      Mentioning her emotional response at all is shameful. How else do expect a person to react when a police officer reacts suddenly and aggressively? Cops should be trained to deescalate others and themselves. In this, the nurse was perfectly calm and justly protecting her patient. The officer escalated the situation to no benefit of anyone, nonetheless the supposed need for evidence.

      I applaud her diligence and action and the coverage of this issue.

    • DRT September 3, 2017 at 7:57 pm

      No Jack. The video of an incompetent officer over stretching his authority triggers my emotions. And of course she didn’t “HAVE” to be arrested. If you will remember clear back to your academy days, they taught us the difference between “Must Take,” and “May Take.” Detective Payne’s lieutenant may have ordered her to be arrested. That doesn’t mean it is right. Or lawful. That lieutenant was NOT on the scene, he was on a telephone and depending on information that he was given by Detective Payne. If he had given even the barest thought as to what was happening here, he would not have given the order. What you are seeing here, as you well know, is the old Contempt Of Cop. And that is not a violation of the law, to my knowledge.
      Common sense would dictate that you don’t hook up a charge nurse and endanger her patients by hauling her off. Not unless that nurse is doing something totally egregious.
      There obviously was a total lack of common sense in this whole situation. There is so much here that is wrong, it’s hard to detail all of it.
      As to the Implied Consent Law being thrown out by the Supreme Court, I would suggest that anyone who is interested, actually take the time to read their decision. It can be found here: https://www.hg.org/article.asp?id=38927

  • 42214 September 3, 2017 at 5:50 pm

    Absolutely one of the most stupid and embarrassing things I’ve seen police do. And a lieutenant was there which even makes it worse.

  • xbcmc059 September 4, 2017 at 10:38 am

    Now you may feel a little pinch here. Cha-Ching, Cha-Ching!

  • Craig September 4, 2017 at 1:02 pm

    In over 35 years practicing emergency medicine, I’ve never had a conflict like this with police officers. They have always been very understanding and cooperative.

  • Jennifer September 5, 2017 at 3:37 pm

    I am a nurse, I have been a nurse for 35 years. I have worked in ER’s and many multiple highly charged area’s for that amount of time. I have NEVER had a bad encounter with an officer. I can say that they respect what I must do, and I respect what they must do. However, watching this makes me angry at the SLP officer.
    1) She has to protect her patient, and he can clearly see that she is getting her directions from the administrator . She is calm, and is explaining this to him.
    2) Other people are standing around, and trying to deescalate this yahoo . He is having nothing to do with it. Somehow, I think this behavior has worked well for him in the past.
    3) This nurse took it well, I can say that if I were in her position I would already have filed a law suit against the PD. She’s being very nice.
    4) Why was this not acted on until the video was released to the web?
    5) As for me, I hope professionally and personally never to run into this officer. I think that he would and will eventually harm patients with his arrogance and lack of control. His paramedic standing should also be reviewed.
    6) She is entitled to her emotional response. We nurses take enough at work, let alone getting man handled by someone when we are doing our job. In many states it is a felony to assault a nurse, and that is what officer Jeff did. He assaulted her. I don’t think in any way that Officer Payne is a “victim”. I might have many words for him, but this would not be one. He should have to face consequences for his actions.

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