A nurse says she was assaulted and illegally arrested by a Salt Lake City police detective for following a hospital policy that does not allow blood draws from unconscious patients.
Footage from University Hospital and officer body cameras shows Detective Jeff Payne and nurse Alex Wubbels in a standoff over whether the policeman should be allowed to get a blood sample from a patient who had been injured in a July 26 collision in northern Utah that left another driver dead.
Wubbels says blood cannot be taken from an unconscious patient unless the patient is under arrest, unless there is a warrant allowing the draw or unless the patient consents. The detective acknowledges in the footage that none of those requirements is in place, but he insists that he has the authority to obtain the draw, according to the footage.
At one point, Payne threatens to take Wubbels to jail if he doesn’t get the sample, and he accuses her of interfering with a criminal case.
“I either go away with blood in vials or body in tow,” Payne says.
After Wubbels consults with several hospital officials and repeats the policy, Payne tells her she is under arrest and grabs her, pulling her arms behind her back and handcuffing her. The footage shows the detective dragging Wubbels out of the hospital and putting her inside a patrol car as she screams, “Help! Help! Somebody help me! Stop! Stop! I did nothing wrong!”
A University of Utah police officer and other officers, who provide security for the hospital, were present at time of the arrest and did not intervene.
As he stands in the hospital parking lot after the arrest, Payne says to another officer that he wonders how this event will affect an off-duty job transporting patients for an ambulance company.
“I’ll bring them all the transients and take good patients elsewhere,” Payne says.
Parts of the footage were shown Thursday at a news conference at the office of Karra Porter, a Salt Lake City attorney representing Wubbels.
Salt Lake police Sgt. Brandon Shearer said the department started an internal investigation, which is ongoing, in response to the incident.
Payne was suspended from the department’s blood-draw program — where officers are trained as phlebotomists so they can get blood samples — but he remains on duty with the Police Department, Shearer said. The department also has held training for the officers in the program as a result of the incident, he said.
In a written report, Payne said he was responding to a request from Logan police to get the blood sample, to determine whether the patient had illicit substances in his system at the time of the crash. Payne explained the “exigent circumstances and implied consent law” to Wubbels, but, according to his report, she said “her policies won’t allow me to obtain the blood sample without a warrant.”
Payne — who says he wanted the blood sample to protect the patient, not punish him — said he was advised by Lt. James Tracy, the watch commander on duty that night, to arrest Wubbels for interfering with a police investigation if she refused to let him get the sample, according to his report.
Tracy said in his report that he spoke on the phone with Wubbels and told her he believed that they had implied consent to get the sample, but she cut him off and said she would not allow the draw without a warrant. He then went to the hospital and tried to tell the nurse why she was in custody, but “she appeared to not want to hear my explanation,” Tracy wrote.
Porter, however, said “implied consent” has not been the law in Utah since 2007, and the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2016 that the Constitution permits warrantless breath tests in drunken-driving arrests, but not warrantless blood tests. She stressed that the patient was always considered the victim in the case and never was suspected of wrongdoing.
No claim or lawsuit has been filed, Porter said, but she has had discussions with Salt Lake City police and she believes the department will educate its officers.
Wubbels said she has heard anecdotally of other health care workers being bullied and harassed by police, and that these videos prove that there is a problem.
“I can’t sit on this video and not attempt to speak out both to re-educate and inform,” she said. Police agencies “need to be having conversations about what is appropriate intervention.”
Wubbels, who was not charged, said she has watched the footage four or five times and said, “It hurts to relive it.”
She never said “no” when Payne asked to take a blood sample; she merely explained the blood draw policy to him, according to Wubbels, who also said she was trying to keep her patient safe and do things the right way.
Porter and Wubbels declined to release information about the patient, but Payne’s report identifies him as 43-year-old William Gray, a reserve officer in the Rigby, Idaho, Police Department, who suffered burns during a July 26 crash in Cache County.
Gray is a truck driver when he is not serving as a reserve police officer, according to the Idaho State Journal.
At about 2 p.m. on July 26, Gray was driving a semi north on State Road 89/91 near Sardine Canyon when a man fleeing from the Utah Highway Patrol crashed a pickup truck into him head-on, according to Logan police, who investigated the collision.
The crash caused an explosion and fire, Logan police have said. Gray was on fire when he exited the semi. The driver of the pickup truck, Marcos Torres, 26, died at the scene.
Police have said Torres was fleeing from the UHP after other drivers reported him driving recklessly.
On Thursday, Gray was in serious condition at University Hospital, officials there said.
Wubbels, an Alpine skier who competed in the Winter Olympics in 1998 and 2002, when her last name was Shaffer, has worked as a nurse at University Hospital since 2009.
Correction: Sept. 1, 1:50 p.m. >> University of Utah police officers were serving as security at the University Hospital. An earlier version of this story misstated the law enforcement agency present.